Comparing Two Similar Major Borders

Dear folks -

In the salon essay I mentioned that I wanted to mount a minor test of sorts to see how we evaluate two concrete instances aesthetically.

Here again are the two rugs without their associated descriptions.

This is the first one:

And here is the second:

As you can see, they are pretty similar.

The main borders are, also, seemingly pretty close renditions of a type of design.

The task, to repeat, is to examine the drawing in these two main borders and then to indicate in a post, whether one of them seems aesthetically superior to the other or not.

Reasons are requested even if you think this comparison is not much worth making. (That is, I ask for your reasoning even if you reject the task.)

I will give my own evaluation and rationale before the salon has ended.

Maybe well before, since there may not be much to talk about in this salon.


R. John Howe

Posted by Marty Grove on 07-20-2007 11:38 AM:

G'day John,

Two similar but pretty different rugs I think - at least from the point of view of asthetic appeal.

One may prefer near perfectly drawn elements, which may show the expertise of the weaver, whereas another perhaps likes a 'rougher' manifestation of the same design, which is what I sort of see here.

Knowing nothing about the fabric itself, even though they look similar, one could be coarse and a 'take off' from the first piece, or visa versa, dependent on which was the original.

The first is better balanced with the flowers well aligned to each other in the opposite borders and the corners are much better resolved. Its a question of symmetry I guess - one is symmetic and the other is more assymetic.

Im only a learner John, and most of what I pick up I get from you and other commentators on Turkotek. Ive a pretty broad foot and when I step in it, there usually is a bit of a mess - so my appreciation of these two is not an experienced call.


Posted by R. John Howe on 07-20-2007 01:57 PM:

Marty -

They're not jumping in quickly, but I'm going to give the "usual suspects" in such debates a chance to give their opinions before I give mine.

I doubt whether you need to be too elaborately modest. After all, you "nailed" the likely use of the Anatolian sash (that some found difficult), right out of the box, in a post in Pat Weiler's salon.


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 07-21-2007 08:07 AM:

Hi John,

I don't know whether I'm asking the right guy, but is it possible to enlarge these images from the viewer's end?

Rich Larkin

Posted by Richard Larkin on 07-21-2007 09:34 AM:

Hi John,

I prefer the effect of the first one as an immediate response, but I am concluding it has a lot to do with the way it is set of by the minor borders, more than its internal elements. The greater contrast provided by the more dramatic frame is what does it. Even so, Marty's comment about the more precise balance and finish of No. 1 is well taken. I think it works better in this type of rug (as contrasted, for example, to the approach in the Turkish Kurd rug Patrick showed us in the "More Museum Rugs" thread the other day ).

I can't make out the finer details of drawing well enough to contrast your two examples with much conviction. For what it's worth, of the two fields, I prefer No. 2.

Rich Larkin

Posted by R. John Howe on 07-22-2007 06:19 AM:

Rich -

Here are closer images of both of these borders.

They are presented in the same order as above.

Hope that helps.


R. John Howe

Posted by Lloyd Kannenberg on 07-22-2007 08:46 AM:

Hello John and all,

Although I'm a great believer in the appeal of "broken symmetries", in this case I prefer the first, symmetrically arranged, border. Very nice balance, I think. Of course the second piece would be accepted as a donation to my collection.

Lloyd Kannenberg

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 07-22-2007 09:10 AM:

Hi John,

A classic example of experience vs. inexperience. Both weavers are using very similar cartoons, but the first understood that a certain amount of planning pays off in aesthetics, and the second just started in the lower left corner of the rug with the left edge of the cartoon and let things fall where they will.

That said, I think I prefer the second rug when it comes to the treatment of the area above the defining edge of the mihrab. The first seems somewhat cluttered and a little awkward. The second, while showing a little too much bright white, is a little better balanced and has a nicely rendered floral theme.

I would choose the second rug over the first, because I think it's a far less common case. In detail, I doubt there are any "mistakes" in the classic sense, as one would expect in city rugs. Yet the failure to plan before executing makes it look a little more spontaneous to me, and is somewhat satisfying to the iconoclast in me.

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by Richard Larkin on 07-22-2007 01:58 PM:

Thanks for the enlargements, John. I keep going to the first rug for preference, though I am hard pressed to say why when I focus on the details. It has something to do with sharp contrast and the design elements being thrown into relief. Maybe the more lavish use of red. I agree with Chuck's overall assessment, and Lloyd's, though you are really asking about the borders here. Given the overall consistent tone between field and border (contrast, say, the lotus blossom item in Patrick's other thread), it may be hard to evaluate the border in a vacuum.

Rich Larkin

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 07-23-2007 02:47 AM:

Hi Chuck,

Both weavers are using very similar cartoons

I suggest they used similar wagirehs, instead. That’s because some wagirehs do not show corner resolution, like this Ushak from salon 115:

While a cartoon should show it - at least, that’s my understanding of how cartoons work – like in the following example.

Consider my observation for what it is: just a quibble.



Posted by R. John Howe on 07-23-2007 07:27 AM:

Dear folks -

I am not ready yet to give my own answer to my task here, but the talk about "corner resolution" lures me about that.

My own sense is that there is no attempt at "corner resolution" at all in either of these two pieces. Both seem to me on examination to have "butted borders." (I think that's true of nearly all of the "Transylvanian" rugs.)

One of the reasons that I included the second Egyptian rug with a silk foundation is that it does have resolved (and mitered) corners.

Notice, also, that in the cartoon Filiberto provides above, there is corner resolution without explicit mitering. If the mitering were explicit, the point of the center diamond form would point directly into the corner. That's unusual in my experience (the roundness and contextual simplicity of the border device permits it). Most corner resolution turns an element of the design at a 45 degree angle in the corner to effect smooth passage.


R. John Howe

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 07-26-2007 07:23 AM:

Hi Filiberto,

So, there are cartoons, and there are CARTOONS. What you show is the latter. I suspect that Johns examples were woven using the former, an example of which is shown in this image:

With no explicit corner treatment in the cartoon, the weaver has to rely on ingenuity to come up with an acceptable solution. BTW, this is not my photo; when I can remember which book it was scanned from, I'll post the appropriate credit.

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by R. John Howe on 07-26-2007 07:52 AM:

Chuck -

One of the articles in the "Transylvanian" exhibition catalog is by Alberto Boralevi. In it he argues that the designs in the "Transylvanian" rugs likely came from Ottoman "court" sources.

He says that it is not possible to tell whether they were made following cartoons or by following actual examples. Although they are "village" production, I see no claim that they were woven from memory.

I have said before that Jon Thompson has argued that it is often possible to tell by examining a given rug the basis on which it is made. Even if a cartoon is employed there is (as I think your post above suggests, wide variation in how closely it is followed).

Sometimes, as in Filiberto's cartoon example, there is a knot for knot digital cartoon and it is followed in that way. A second version of the digital cartoon is one converted to a linear text of "color calls" and called out by a master weaver. In this second variety some variation is possible (likely?) between what the caller calls and what the weaver does. A third variety of cartoon following might be illustrated by you photo above. Here a cartoon or actual example of some sort (it need not be digital) is followed approximately by a weaver. In this usage, considerable variation is possible.

It is interesting to me that, despite the relative complexity and sophistication of the designs in many of the "Transylvanian" rugs, the weavers seem unembarrassed by butted borders.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 07-26-2007 08:28 AM:

Hi Chuck,

There are also many vagirehs showing corners resolution, but I was under the impression that cartoons should show at least a quarter of a rug. Which is logical too, at least for rugs with a symmetrical layout.

Re-reading Taher Sabahi’s “Vaghireh” confirmed that I got that impression from this book: Sabahi says that generally cartoons showed a quarter of a design. But he adds that often, for ease of use, the cartoons were cut down to small parts.
Your photo shows the weaver using at least two cartoon ”fragments”, one for the border and one for the field. This kind of border design doesn’t require mitered corners, as we can see, so perhaps it wasn’t necessary having a cartoon fragment for that.



Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 07-26-2007 08:44 AM:

...and, if I'm not wrong, there are two more "cartoon fragments" visible at the right of the weaver. There could have been more outside the picture...


Posted by R. John Howe on 07-26-2007 09:22 AM:

Filiberto -

We know that Sabahi's indication that vagireh's generally show a quarter of the rug is not the case.

In our our salon on this format, we started with Eiland's indication that there are four varieties of vagireh.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 07-26-2007 10:05 AM:

John, I was speaking about cartoons, NOT wagirehs.

Posted by R. John Howe on 07-26-2007 11:15 AM:

Filiberto -

Yes, I see now. Reading is active projection. My mistake.


R. John Howe

Posted by Richard Larkin on 07-26-2007 12:20 PM:


It must be so as John suggests that rugs are woven from cartoons, or the equivalent, to a very varied level of accuracy. I note that it is not uncommon to encounter rugs with dates that read in reverse. I believe it is often said that such rugs were woven copying other rugs from the back, the weaver having thus employed the paradigm rug as a cartoon. The phenomenon might be relatively more frequent in East Caucasian rugs, the weave patterns of which are often clear and regular, suiting such rugs to cartoon duty.

Rich Larkin

Posted by R. John Howe on 07-26-2007 09:03 PM:

Dear folks -

Thinking a little more about the notion that likely most cartoons were of one quarter of a complete rug design, Carol Bier's work with pattern and symmetry lets us indicate the standards designs that can be fully captured in a one quarter cartoon must meet.

They must be designs that can be fully completed by the reflection or rotation of the quarter provided on the cartoon. Here is an example:

This means that most single niche designs would require a cartoon for one vertical half. Here is an example of this second sort (although, in this precise instance, you might get away with a top quarter since everything is there for the bottom quarters; only the spandrels would need to be dropped out):

The Bode rug might be a better example of this second type:

Turkmen chuvals with skirts likely require half cartoons.

The half cartoon rule likely applies to any piece with only one skirt. Most engsis, for example.

And the basic rule about reflection and rotation means that rugs with asymmetrical fields (e.g., many classical "animal" carpets are of this sort) have to be graphed in their entirety on a cartoon. Here is a modern example.

These rules may suggest that most cartoons ARE one quarter of a design that can be rotated or reflected to produce an entire rug.

I noticed, by the way, that the cartoons being produced on some of the old Anatolian rugs in the Konya rug museum do not include a full quarter and will require some imagination on the part of the weavers if they are ever actually used.


R. John Howe

Posted by Marty Grove on 07-27-2007 08:50 AM:

Assisted Design

G'day John and all,

Rugs such as those shown above, reflect the sort which are not part of the outback variety most liked by moi, but this doesnt detract from their appearance and interest.

That they have all been crafted by the aid of a picture of commonality, which they must be, because there is not much sense in making a little rug only a quarter or half of its appearance unless more than the current intended rug is to be made from it. From that, of course we can infer that they were more than likely also, to have been made in a village, and not by true nomads.

They are a type, and that so much can be made of so little a carton as necessary, as in the case of the carefully mitred and elegant Egyptian piece is wonderful. Those which have been shown to be 'transylvanian' are as John shows, not really bothered to be so precise in the corners - it is the general effect of the whole, for the type is within another, what we can call the 'prayer' type, evidenced by the mihrab.

It took me a while to notice on the original rug that it also had butted borders, as I had only noticed the beginnings of the borders on the second one, mainly because it already had the appearance of being slightly less than perfect.

Its a fine example of how we orginally look at the picture of a given rug - that interested glance - before we begin to examine it further.

And a fine lesson John, on just how much attention is required to come near to the approximation of truely seeing rugs as they really present themselves.

We look, but often dont see -


Posted by R. John Howe on 07-27-2007 10:50 AM:

Hi Marty -

Yes, sometimes the new things we see in rugs are the result of training our eyes, so to speak. Recognizing butted borders might be one such.

But even folks quite experienced report, sometimes, that they have seen something in a piece that they own quite long after they have first owned it.

In the "Vagireh" salon, Filiberto and I did (with the help of a nice rug morning by Harold Keshishian and the Taher Sabahi book), Jerry Thompson reported that he had owned the rug below for several years before it occurred to him that the lonely white border stripe at the top edge of its field might indicate that it was a type of vagireh. A smaller version of a planned rug with all the designs and colors to be used, a primary question of which might have been "should we include this white ground minor border or not?"

Now Jerry has been looking at (and selling) decorative rugs since the mid-1970s, so his admission of seeing this feature and its potential implication late carries a lot of weight.

Sometimes the "new things to be seen" seem to reside in the rug itself. One of the tests some collectors apply to identify a superior weaving is that they "see new things" in it all the time. If it can do that for them, they think they have come to own a truly outstanding piece.


R. John Howe

Posted by Patrick Weiler on 07-29-2007 12:30 PM:

Same yet Different


As "one of the usual suspects" you mentioned in an earlier post, (we know who we are) I will take you up on your query about the aesthetic superiority of one or the other of these borders.
At first glance, the second border seems jarring due to the lack of symmetry. Why it would not be symmetrical could be due to the use of a cartoon which showed the design, but not how to fit it into the available space. But also note that the motifs in the border of the second piece are not identical throughout.
The border design consists of two major motifs, one is a round flower and the other is a spade-shaped palmette.
The palmette in the first rug is identical in color and shape all the way around, even when cut in half by the border. In the second rug, the palmette is fat or skinny, white or red. This irregularity makes the appearance of the rug stutter, trip or lose focus to the viewer.
The rest of the rug shows similar discontinuities in the execution of the design, too. From the elimination of the delicate filigree work in the spandrels of the mihrab to the addition of the little ant-like bugs crawling around the inner border of the field.
Even the darker warp and weft of the flatweave at either end do not make a soothing frame for the piece.
I prefer the first piece by quite a measure.

Patrick The Usual Suspect Weiler

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 08-01-2007 09:55 PM:

A State of Disbalance

Hi John,

With all the banter about the "border" rugs, I forgot to complain a little about this one:

It is either:
1) one of the better examples of awkward execution

2) An example of highly developed weaving skills, demonstrated by the ability to stretch and squeeze design elements with great facility.

I especially like the asymmetrical "saltbox roof" approach used in the left-most arch.

Is this thing a wagirah ?

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by Marty Grove on 08-02-2007 08:33 AM:

A pleasure

G'day Chuck and all,

This is one of those rugs in which the negatives of its appearance enhance the positives of the format from my point of view. I would never knock it back personally; regardless the obvious 'faulty' or poor planning, its wholesome appearance, for what it is, is terrific to me.

It looks like what I think of as Moghul era, there is just something Indian in its Islamic-ness, the mass of the borders reflecting the lightness of the field, the slim columns and the pretty shrubs above the mihrab. What does it matter, its shape or the demolished design of the borders compared to the whole?

To a man of taste who loves perfection it might repel, but to mere me, its the opposite - a real grabber.

Chuck, wheres is it most likely to have come from?


Posted by Marty Grove on 08-02-2007 08:40 AM:

Had I seen Jeff's photography, then my question would have been unnecessary

Its from the Transylvanian rugs shown in Jeff's collection of pictures. How on earth did Chuck manage to take the photo in such clarity when Jeff's lighting wasnt too flash...

Good anyway, thanks to you both.


Posted by Camille Khairallah on 08-02-2007 09:14 AM:


Hello to all,

I have read all what was said with great interest and pleasure.
A considerable part was relevant of technical achievement which is as important as interesting but what I believe is more important is the final required aesthetic effect resulting of the conception and the workmanship.
In order to appreciate that awsthetic side, I personally try to classify the pieces I am studying by placing them under a well-known artistic title whch can be classical, naïve, free, abstract, symbolic etc...

At the time it was woven a given rug could belong to a certain category and with time change to another.

Today, I place a Transylvanian prayer rug under the grand Classical title. Classical art simply being the art of respect, certain rules have to be observed in a rug. Proportions, symmetry and a given characteristic theme are basic rules for the case subject. Technique and material have their importance as well but in the case of Transylvanian rugs, these usually vary in a very narrow range and are to be rather neglected.
One will very rarely -if ever- find asymmetry in the field of these rugs, so the essential part to examin and to valuate is the border.
Whether copied from a cartoon or a model or also improvised (which is in my opinion in the most likely case of both pieces, and it is more appreciable), the borders of the first rug observe well the rule of symmetry for both ends, while the sides observed it with regard to a central vertical axis but not to a horizontal one, the task becoming more difficult and therefore only requires the existence of a model or cartoon. While for the end-borders, two weavers can start weaving from the middle sideways and obyain a good result. The borders of the second piece do not observe this rule as was already said hence not providing the required "respect" feeling.
Now comparing these to Cairo or Boursa prayer rugs, we will find that the classicism is of course more present in these Court rugs, everything being relative.

As for the coupled column Chuck posted, what could have happened there is that the rug being woven upside down; the weaver was probably stymied with lack of enough warp length to properly achieve her work.
But now that I took a closer look, the fringes on the top of the mihrab side are red while they are ivory on the bottom… Could it be that the rug was repaired so?..



Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-02-2007 02:23 PM:

Hi Camille:

Are those fringes red at the one end, or is that the remnants of a horizontal stripe in the kelim end, with the wefts red and the warps natural, or white, or whatever?

As regards classifying rugs in order to appreciate the artistic merits: It would seem that you can stand in front of the rug and assign it to different classes all day, yet the rug never changes. Do the aesthetic merits of a rug depend on the milieu in which it was woven?

Rich Larkin

Posted by Camille Khairallah on 08-02-2007 02:55 PM:

Hi Richard,

No, the rug itself does not change but the spectator changes and the way to persue it and evaluate it chage as well.
When a piece of music is created, it could not be classified as classical but when it touches such a great number of people in the very same way, then its features and its style become perceived as "classical".

So its merits do not depend of the milieu where it was created but of our eye and more of our experienced eye that captures what is deeper than its superficial "beauty".



Posted by R. John Howe on 08-02-2007 08:43 PM:

"Classical" Music

Camille -

I take your point, but I suspect that you mean "serious" music or music meriting some other designation of quality.

When you put classical inside quotes, when referring to such music, you tend to draw links like this:

Just an aside.


R. John Howe

Posted by Camille Khairallah on 08-03-2007 08:06 AM:

a classic

Hi John and all,

I gave the example of music but the term classic does not only refer to a special type of music but to a special type of art with which ones takes the same feeling. I feel RESPECT in front of a Greek temple, in front of a painting by Botticelli, in front of an Iznik pottery, when listening to Bach or Beethoven (even though they have different sub-styles), or when attending a ballet and also in front of a Bursa prayer rug.
In all these works, there are accurate rules that make them “carry” that feeling and transmit it into the receiving person who will then act “with respect” towards other people.
What I wanted to express about the Transylvanian prayer was also stated in the music site link that was posted by John and it says (although I don’t fully agree):

“Rap, gospel, pop, jazz, country, dance and rock music (to name a few) have all been styles that have been drawn from and incorporated into classical music during the Modern period.”



Posted by R. John Howe on 08-06-2007 02:21 PM:

Dear folks -

I think a great deal if not all of what can be said usefully about the differences in these two borders has been said above.

I'll give my own views now, trying to acknowledge things others have offered.

First, Marty says right off that he sees the main difference as between an "asymmetric" treatment and one more focused on preserving "symmetry." That's my own broad view as well.

The "devil" about why this may be so, is, of course, in the details.

Richard Larkin suggested early that the effectiveness of the main border in the first rug may be, in part, due to that of its minor borders. The larger scale of the minor borders may work to produce that effeect. I confess to not having noticed it. Richard also seemed to agree with Marty's symmetry observation under the heading of "balance.

Lloyd Kannenberg said that he often prefers "broken symmetries," but in this case would vote for the symmetrical border treatment of the first rug.

Chuck Wagner likes the second rug best overall, but was the first to observe that the drawing of the main borders on the first piece show some "planning" while the weaver of the second rug seemed less concerned with how this border pattern proceeded around her rug.

This is what I, too, noticed early about these two border treatments.

It is clear that the weaver of the first rug knew how many horizontal knots it would take to complete the precise section of this border pattern she wanted to use on the bottom of this rug (the weavers in the Rugtalk site I watch talk a lot about "sett" which is how many warps will be avialable).

The first weaver also knew that the optimum place to begin to produce the effect she wanted was in the middle of a palmette.

But notice how logical it might seem to the second weaver simply to start with one of the circular medallions. So starting point in the design sequence was also important. Pat Weiler was alert and articulate about this point.

The version of this main border that the second weaver uses seems to me a little longer than that used by the first weaver.
This impression is increased by the fact that the second weaver chose to use white for some of her palmettes and this has the effect both of stretching the design out visually and of seeming to break the regularity of its alternating rythm. So color choice is also implicated in the differences between these two borders. Pat Weiler indicated that all is not just effect in the second border and that some times the devices change irregularly and the same devices sometimes have different widths in different drawings. He used the nice word "stutter" to describe this effect.

Filiberto noted that neither of the main borders is resolved at their corners and suggested that this might indicate that they were woven following vagirehs, since most vagirehas have unresolved corners.

We ended by talking about what sorts of designs could be woven from cartoons that show only one quarter of a complete rug.

Looking only at the main border treatments it is my view that the treatment on the first rug is more aesthetically attractive BECAUSE of the closer attention paid to a presentation that honored the symmetries of the design. "Transylvanian" rug designs are fairly complex and formal despite their "village" origins. It is harder for me to appreciate the virtues of irregularities in them that I might find "charming" in more tribal pieces. I think Camille Khairallah was making a similar argument when he suggested that "Transylvanian" rugs are of a more classical sort and need to observe a narrower range of variation in the execution of their designs.

There is one additional interesting to note about this difference I have raised. Although the catalog descriptions (and the articles in the catalog) frequently call attention to precise details of particular design elements and talk about them with either approval or criticsm, Michael Franses says nothing at all about the main borders of these two rugs in his catalog comment. These differences, to which I have called attention, seem, in this case, not to merit expert comment at all.

This, in turn, may suggest that some of the distinctions that attract my attention in particular oriental rugs may need fine-tuning.

You may well know that, but , if not, be forewarned by this thread.


R. John Howe

Posted by Chris Countryman on 08-06-2007 08:43 PM:


Some absolutely intriguing pieces and lots of visual games. I was scolling past the rug that Chuck commented on and the three arches seemed to move horizontally as I scrolled vertically. I am with Chuck on that one: either very crude or very clever.

The other intriguing thing about this paticular thread is that there have been 31 posts and not a single mention of B_ _ _ _ _ _. (I won't say it either.) This may be a record for Turkotek.


Chris Countryman

Posted by Richard Larkin on 08-07-2007 12:10 AM:


Now that I think of it, the shape of the prayer arch on those Dokhtar-i-ghazi prayer rugs.....oh, nevermind.

Rich Larkin