Posted by Wendel Swan on 06-19-2007 11:57 AM:

Perhaps a legacy and certainly a great carpet

Dear all,

Some of the pleasures of a rug conference are obvious. We see exhibitions and old friends, browse the dealers’ fair, hear lectures, enjoy the host city and spend too much along the way on more wool than we need. Sometimes we make new friends or gain knowledge or buy something that we thereafter associate with the conference. Perhaps it affects us in other ways, but too often the enjoyment is ephemeral.

ICOC-XI in Istanbul was, according to many observers, the “best ever,” perhaps because of the spectacular exhibitions, the locale, and the hospitality of the Turkish people.

In order to permanently memorialize the ICOC conferences, Robert Pinner insisted on publishing catalogs and papers. That is a tradition of which I am especially proud.

But ICOC-XI may have left a legacy beyond the all those memories and the now-expected catalogs and papers, something in which we should all take pleasure. I refer to the revitalization of interest within Turkey itself of its heritage and tradition of carpet making and to the state of the museum carpets that we saw.

ICOC organized a fund for the restoration of the rugs at the Turk ve Islam Eserleri Muzesi (TIEM), arguably where some of the world’s most important carpets are held. The fund received donations from both individuals and rug societies. One extremely generous Turkish donor was moved to make his contribution when he learned of the American efforts on behalf of the TIEM.

Those who visited the TIEM saw these spectacular rugs cleaned and re-mounted.

I can’t say for certain whether the decision to hold ICOC-XI in Istanbul was a cause or catalyst of the many changes that took place in Turkey around this conference. I only know that the TIEM carpets were cleaned and conserved, that the rugs in the old Vakiflar have been moved from their deplorable conditions, that the law changed so that it is now possible to legally take old rugs into Turkey, that new Vakiflar museums have been created and that there seems to be in Turkey a new awareness of and appreciation for its own extraordinary and long weaving tradition.

Those of us involved in ICOC are all unpaid volunteers. Not even all of our expenses are covered. If we had a role in these results, all the work that went into helping to organize the Istanbul ICOC was worth it.

For those who are not familiar with the TIEM’s holdings, here is an example of its treasures. At the opening reception, I spoke with one fellow who, along with another conservator, had spent six full months working on this monumental carpet:

This is a Seljuk carpet of the 13th or 14th Century, measuring 6 meters in length, almost 20 feet. It was difficult to get decent pictures of any of the carpets that night. While I have better images from previous visits, the presence of the two women demonstrates the scale of the carpet. Before I saw it for the first time, I had paid no attention to the dimensions in the books and assumed it was much smaller. I can only say that I was stunned when I saw it in the flesh that first time. It is truly breath-taking. It is also on the cover of the catalog.

It's hard for me to imagine that there could ever be another rug conference with such wonderful offerings. And I believe that we left something good behind.



Posted by R. John Howe on 06-19-2007 12:37 PM:

Wendel -

Our assessment of rugs that might be truly of note is interesting.

Consider this piece, which I agree, is very, very impressive when one is facing it.

How inadequate is our ability to describe it. It has a quite narrow palette. Its designs are among those seen as easier to weave. It's overall composition is simple in the extreme. And it has no, repeat, no borders.

Folks who have not faced it might be excused for asking what all the excitement is about. Do its merits reside mostly in its estimated age?

I do agree that the TIEM material alone was almost too rich to take in in the time we had to look at it. That is likely reason enough to buy the expensive conference catalog. The TIEM pieces are included in one volume.


R. John Howe

Posted by Marty Grove on 06-19-2007 01:13 PM:

Legally allow material INTO Turkey?

G'day Wendel,

Your sentence surprised me - that there were measures in place legally to obstruct bringing weavings INTO Turkey; one would think they may be protective of outgoing stuff, but why on earth would they have originally at some time, legislate to keep it from coming IN!?

Did they differentiate between incoming old Turkish rugs, or from the general weaving world?

From the pictures and discussion on this Salon of ICOC 11, its fairly obvious that there was an almost unbelievably monumental display of weavings from across the board. And that your team initiated and were instrumental in the resurrection and upgraded housekeeping of an entire Museums collection is incredibly worthy for which you all should take a bow.

Perhaps more importantly, a very visible and selfless action by interested Westeners to improve the presentation of a section of Muslim Turkeys historical and cultural artifacts may help ease perceptions of east and wests divergence.

Taking out the religeous and political differences, one might notice that in much else we are very similar. Make friends, not trouble I say.


Martin R. Grove

Posted by Wendel Swan on 06-19-2007 02:26 PM:

Hello Marty,

The law prohibiting imports was, I am certain, pure protectionism on behalf of the carpet industry in Turkey. In recent years, the concern was for rugs from China and India coming into Turkey. While that may not seem to make sense when applied to antique carpets, four years before ICOC-XI the International Committee of ICOC was very concerned about the viability of a Carpet Fair if dealers from outside Turkey could not bring their merchandise with them. We couldn’t sanction a full ICOC for Istanbul until that issue was favorably resolved, which it was. An act was pending before the Turkish legislature as we were meeting with commerce ministers in Ankara.

I have suggested that ICOC may have been a catalyst in this process, which I do believe. But Turkey also wanted to become a member of the EU and reducing trade barriers toward that end undoubtedly played an important role.

Nevertheless, I believe that ICOC-XI served as one example of how to attract visitors and commerce to Turkey.

You point out how similar “we” are in spite of religious differences. Turkey has been primarily a secular country, although there are Islamist movements there. But I would cite a HUGE difference between the United States and Turkey. I can’t believe that any Turk who came here without English skills could receive the same welcome and help as I and others experienced in Turkey. They are the most hospitable people you could ever find.


Posted by Jack Williams on 06-19-2007 02:32 PM:

coffee, iceboxes, and coals


Some time ago (ok 35 years or so) I went to Columbia for a summer. They did not want you do bring coffee into the country and I noticed a small bottle of instant coffee confiscated from a gent ahead of me.

Likewise, I've heard that it is not a good idea to take an icebox to Alaska or carry coals to New Castle...but I don't have firsthand information on the last two. Any rules about bringing roos, rabbits, or dingos into Australia?

Regards, Jack

Posted by Wendel Swan on 06-19-2007 03:40 PM:

Hi John,

You posted: “It's overall composition is simple in the extreme. And it has no, repeat, no borders.”

Clearly the field is nearly minimalist, but there is an epigraphic border that is typically Seljuk. There are remnants of the border at both the top and the bottom. Witness the top with some of the medallions:

The border is small in comparison to the field and doesn’t show in my image.

The extant Seljuk carpets commonly have repeating designs contrasted with these strong borders. In this case the octagons contain a quadripartite form that is seen over the millennia. Such forms have been discussed extensively here on Turkotek where we’ve seen examples in Coptic textiles.

These medallions use the red-on-red technique used in many Turkmen and Belouch rugs, but I have to apologize for the color quality here.

John, you ask: “Do its merits reside mostly in its estimated age?” I think so, but it is visually stunning and I would refer to it as important rather than necessarily beautiful.

One cannot appreciate this TIEM rug outside its historical context. As far as I know, it is the oldest, nearly complete large carpet in existence. Earlier material from Anatolia and other regions is mostly fragmentary. It had to have been made for an important person or place; it is an important artifact of an important era.

It is not a technical tour de force. The medallions are not uniformly woven. The range of color is indeed limited. While I realize that bigger is not necessarily better, its monumental size is impressive.

Within the TIEM, it is located in the rear-most gallery. After seeing one great rug after another, one might expect to become sated. But when I reached it for the first time (a few years ago), I felt about the way I did when I encountered Hammurabi’s Code at the Louvre earlier this year: I knew that I was in the presence of something very important. It was a thrilling sight.


Posted by Patrick Weiler on 06-19-2007 07:24 PM:

Proto Turkmen

This very large rug that Wendel has pictured was one of the more striking pieces at the TIEM. It is also partially pictured in the Gantzhorn book The Christian Oriental Carpet, with the note "The inner panel consists of Kotshak crosses set in octagons, which are laid out like tiles to form a composition familiar from early Christian mosaics in Antioch."
"If carpets were being done by Christian weavers for the Seljuk or Mongolian occupying power, then some of them may be found in these groups (with pseudo-Kufic borders), whereas the so called Hoof-Mark pattern (in this rug) represents yet another example of the continuation of the Armenian-Syrian tradition of designs."
This rug has also been considered as a proto-Turkmen design, familiar to the more recent Turkmen main carpets, but with a white field instead of the common red field.
And Wendel is right. Some of the TIEM rugs are so large as to resist photographing the entire thing. A couple of Kurdish garden carpets were so long that they trailed onto the floor, even though the ceilings in the TIEM were extraordinarily high. And with all the people in the museum at the same time, it was difficult to take a picture without someone in the way. The Kilim exhibit was even more crowded, due to being in a smaller venue.
John sent me some photos that he took at the TIEM and Vakiflar museums, some of which are shown below:

And here is another batch:

This is a lot of photos, and it is probably not the last of the pictures for this salon, but it gives you a sense of the quantity and quality of pieces housed in Istanbul. A tremendous amount of work has been done, and a lot more is forthcoming. It is quite gratifying that the sorry conditions that so many of these carpets have been subjected to has finally been improved.

Patrick Weiler

Posted by R. John Howe on 06-19-2007 09:09 PM:

Not Sure Where Some Were Taken

Pat -

Not to deflect from enjoyment of this material, but I have to admit that I'm not entirely sure, at the moment, of where each of the pieces here was, in fact, taken.

I know that this piece

was part of Paksoy exhibition of kilims and carpets at the Rezan Has Museum on one of the receptions on April 18. The Vakiflar and the TIEM material was not seen that night.

When I sent the images to you I thought that they were from the Vakiflar exhibition, but I think there is TIEM material in them and some from the Rezan Has as well.

So we need to cautious about saying where they were taken. The date on my digital camera seems to have put some things that happened one day on the next.

A systematic comparison with the images Jeff Krauss took and his labeling might help sort things out, but I haven't been able to do that.

Sorry for the confusion.

R. John Howe

Posted by James Blanchard on 06-19-2007 11:01 PM:

Hi all,

I think I would fall into the camp of referring to the large Seljuk carpet as being "important" and "impressive", but I am not sure how I would react to such a carpet aesthetically if I did not know how old and important it is.

I'm sure much has been written about it that I haven't read, but on first impression it strikes me as an oddity. It is such a huge carpet that it must have been made on a very large loom in a settled place for a very large space. But the design and execution seems very crude. Perhaps it was made with a deliberate austerity, but if you look at first octagon in the second picture of Wendel's last post you can see that the weaver was unable to consistently render even the basic and simple design. It strikes me as the creation of a primitive weaving culture, or an inexperienced weaver, or both. But why would such an inexpert weaver have such a big loom and use so much wool to create such a large and simple carpet?


Posted by Steve Price on 06-20-2007 06:17 AM:

Hi James

When seen in person (at least, by me), the sheer scale of the carpet is an important part of the aesthetic. I think it would look much less impressive as a floor covering than it does on the wall.

It's unlikely that a carpet that size was woven by a single weaver, which may account for the variability in execution. It must have been done as a commissioned piece by somebody in a high station, and to whatever standard was the norm at the time. Remember, this was woven around AD1200.


Steve Price

Posted by James Blanchard on 06-20-2007 07:04 AM:

Hi Steve,

You said:

and to whatever standard was the norm at the time. Remember, this was woven around AD1200.

I suppose you would need to amend this to "whatever standard was the norm at the time AND place". Given the technical quality of the Pazyryk rug, and others that followed not too long after this Seljuk carpet, a much higher technical standard of weaving was occurring in some places before, and probably during that time.

I am curious about whether you and others think that the apparently impressive aesthetic was the result of a studied and deliberate design, or something a bit more random. I suppose that some of the variability could come from multiple weavers, but it looks to me like even if there were multiple weavers none of them were highly skilled or consistent. Was the high level of variation in the size and placement of the octagons deliberate, or just not very precise weaving? If deliberate, what are the other artistic traditions around that time and place that parallel this sort of aesthetic?

To me this is a very mysterious carpet. I'll see if I can read more about it, but would certainly be interested if other Turkotekkers could enlighten me as well.


Posted by Steve Price on 06-20-2007 08:10 AM:

Hi James,

Of course, I should have said time and place, and added, circumstances.

This carpet was almost surely woven to cover a floor. If so, neither the weavers, the designer nor the guy who commissioned it would have considered what it would look like when hanging on a tall wall where it could be seen all at once. For that reason, I suspect that the dramatic aesthetic effect that it has in the museum is more happenstance than planning at the time it was woven (happenstance or not, it really is dramatic). Irregularities would probably have been of little concern, for the same reason.


Steve Price

Posted by Marty Grove on 06-20-2007 08:22 AM:

Thanks for the explanation Wendel, makes more sense now.

In similarities, was thinking more of people overall having a desire for friendship, comfort and plenty and perhaps sharing the love of rugs.

As for politeness, perhaps thats a residue of Islam and the proscribed hospitality for strangers now translated simply into being generally polite to those one does not know?

Hey Jack, please, I can understand the coffee into Columbia situation - there are many coffees which one would hope not be allowed into Australia - awful stuff! As to whether we would allow more roos, bunnys and dingoes into Oz, no thanks, we have enough of them already; and there are a few 'dingoes' Ive had the misfortune to meet whom it would be no loss to export!


Posted by R. John Howe on 06-20-2007 08:24 AM:

James -

Wendel has acknowledged most of your points.

He admits that age is likely a major factor in our evaluation of this rug since it seems to be the least fragmented Turkish rug we have of this size from this period.

He also acknowledges its technical deficiencies.

There, are, by the way, lots of variations in older rugs that would seem surely to have been woven from a cartoon. Jon Thompson did a close study of the Ardebil carpet once in this regard and demonstrated that there are lots of variations all over it.

Thompson thinks that one can often study a rug and tell on what basis it was woven. For example, the complexity of the Ardebil design strongly suggests that it was made following a cartoon. But the variations Thompson found suggest to him that the design was "called out" rather than followed knot for knot on a paper cartoon. Or that the weavers could see what was required by the cartoon but were free to follow in close approximation.

I don't know what he would say about the variations in this piece (especially since it is such a simple design to weave) but the presence of irregularities is not itself always evidence that a cartoon was not made or employed.

I do think the size suggests a client and one with a pretty large space in which the rug was to be used. And I missed the fact that it had a dramatic border. With that, it would have been a pretty impressive piece despite the simplicity of the field design.

But, like you, I do think this is a good example for pressing the bases of some of the positive evaluations we sometimes make of particular pieces. It is not so much a debate about whether a given evaluation is deserved as it is a matter of making visible the different bases being used. Novices could get understandably confused reading some evaluations.


R. John Howe

Posted by James Blanchard on 06-20-2007 08:49 AM:

Hi Steve and John,

I think it is the apparent simplicity and, could I say, crudeness, in such a large carpet that surprises me. Whatever the circumstances of design and execution, it seems that not one of the weavers could consistently execute the basic octagonal design. If deliberate, then perhaps I need to look at it in an entirely different light. If not, then I am still curious about the fact that there was the manufacture of such large carpets with such unskilled weavers. It is almost as if they started making very large carpets for very large rooms before they had gotten some of the basics down pat.

John, might I suggest that whatever the irregularities in design of the Ardebil carpet, it is in an entirely different category than this rug. The Ardebil is obviously much more sophisticated, or at least complex, in terms of design and execution.

If the Seljuk was made based on a cartoon, imagine what the cartoon looked like.


Posted by Richard Larkin on 06-20-2007 07:21 PM:

Hey folks,

As far as the big old Seljuk rug is concerned, I think it has a spectacular look. Much more interesting to me, however, it the fantastic variety and lack of triteness among these wonderful pieces. I am always keen to know what was being woven in the dim past, and I'm always gratified when it turns out to be on the wild side.

Rich Larkin