The Kochak Motif in a Nestorian Context - 1.500 Years of Tradition
the kochak is among the most popular motifs in rugs. Its name derives from the Turkish word koç for the male sheep, the ram. From the perspective of the essay in this Salon, the motif has its origin in Upper Wider Mesopotamia (UWM). Also, the Greek bucranium might be a source. However, the origin of that one may also lay in UWM or in Central Anatolia. It may even be possible, that the kochak-motif has developed in several environments isolated from one another in the Near East and in Central Asia. It has a long tradition in a Nestorian context:
Early Christian era 3rd - 5th century design:
The symbol of the cross has had a slow start with Christians, too embarrassing in the public perception was its association with Christ’s death at the cross, which was considered particularly shameful. It needed the formulation of redeeming concepts and the abandonment of crucifixion, before the cross could become a Christian symbol. In distinction to concepts in further western churches, in the Church of the East (Nestorian Church), the cross with equal-length beams became the explicit symbol of the resurrection, here with a set of kochaks that have a light local touch:
8th century design:
20th century design:
First let us agree on something :
After that, I have a few problems. I am quite willing to believe that the kotchak has "a long tradition in Nestorian context", but not on the basis of what you show us here.
I will not repeat here what Marla and others have pointed out about your rug, except that an image of Mary giving birth as a Christian symbol is absolutely preposterous, and disqualifies this rug from the get-go as any kind of Christian artifact.
Secondly, the Chinese kotchaks look unusual with the way they emerge from the lotus on dancing stems, and with the double outline on the sides. "With a light local touch" indeed! They struck me from the first as looking like the Chinese Lingzhi mushrooms.
It seems Robert Oppenheim suggests in an article that they are stylized clouds representing Taoism, with the lotus representing Buddhism. The whole then shows the superiority of Nestorianism to Taoism and Buddhism.
I am not able to access the Oppenheimer article, but as lingzhi mushrooms are strongly associated with Taoism, probably even more strongly than clouds, I would prefer my own interpretation . Whichever you choose, both give a more convincing interpretation of the design itself, and make sense in the context. The whole design could even be seen as a form of syncretism, which Nestorians were known for, with a bow to the other main religions of that time and place.
As the crosses in the modern photograph are clearly copies of the Chinese one, I don't see what they add to the tradition, nor why all of a sudden they represent "the capricorn of the mountains and the buffalo of the plain". Or were they that in China too?
mushrooms - is it that what you are suggesting that set me off with the Nestorians ? Thinking of it, I have been to Amsterdam a few times in recent years and have eaten at Chinese restaurants.
I don’t think the Nestorians were syncretistic. But it is an accusation that had been made by their Roman Catholic adversaries, and some modern times scholars had come to that conclusion (also see the article you posted as a link). The Nestorians were treading a thin line though between dogmatism and syncretism and were aware of the danger. Patriarch Giwargis I (in office 661-680) condemned heathen burial rituals at Christian funerals (676). Baumer (2006, p 182f) gives an example of a Tang era Chinese Christian who was buried according to Chinese custom with a pottery camel that showed a saddle bag depicting Jesus Christ’s descend from the cross. Nearer home at Seleucia Ctesiphon that would have been impossible as far as I know, but deep into Central Asia, in competition with other religions that used images, the Nestorians adapted their formal stile an begun using pictures as well (the Talas river plate is another example) – but not as idols for worship and without amalgamating other religions. Only the latter would have been syncretistic in my opinion.
I agree, the kotchak motifs look a little bit like those mushrooms, but not more than that. I am familiar with the interpretation of clouds. I am a sailor and they tell me my fortune, as far as weather is concerned. Those do not look like naturalistic clouds to me at all. Operationalizing, I would say, its less than 5% cloud, 20% mushroom and 75 % kotchak what is in them.
“I will not repeat here what Marla and others have pointed out about your rug, except that an image of Mary giving birth as a Christian symbol is absolutely preposterous.”
From a Nestorian perspective on the 4th and 5th century fights over Christology, Mary in that position is a crystal-clear statement; with the use of space alone an essential aspect of the Nestorian Christology is expressed that distinguishes it from all other churches and that remained a constant of East Syrian Theology; it was at the heart of the schism too. Rhombus (vesica piscis), white colour coding, sceptre representing the Hypostatic Union, kotchack / bucrania define the divine space. Mary is clearly outside of it, not part of the Trinity, not Mother of God or mother goddess, but she is very near Christ and can still be venerated as Christotokos. How could that have been expressed any better?
If Robert Oppenheim suggests in an article that the kotchak motifs are stylized clouds representing Taoism, with the lotus representing Buddhism and the whole then showing the superiority of Nestorianism to Taoism and Buddhism, he seems to be unaware of the function of the motif in a Nestorian and ultimately Mesopotamian catalogue of image language and makes his assessment from a Chinese perspective only. The lotus stands for purity and divinity and uses an image language familiar to a Chinese surrounding. As such it is used to transport or emphasize what is expresses by the kotchak motif in a ‘foreign’ image language. I don’t think the question of superiority of one religion over the other is addressed here.
“As the crosses in the modern photograph are clearly copies of the Chinese one, I don't see what they add to the tradition, nor why all of a sudden they represent " Or were they that in China too?”
Dinie, I think you got the wrong end of the stick here. First: not one cross is the copy of the other; both are in the same tradition. The cross is not representing capricorn and buffalo; the set of antithetic horns / the kotchaks in the modern group are a mix, representing the capricorn of the mountains and the buffalo of the plain. This is in accordance with Old Oriental image language; in Northern Mesopotamia the horns were often those of the capricorn, further south it was the buffalo mostly. Sometimes a gazelle was represented. Does this makes it clearer?
Or were you wondering about the implication, that those later rugs with kotchak motifs flanking small rhombi or cartouches with a little cross inside might be pointing towards a former Nestorian influence?
Of course a real, original and certified “3rd - 5th”century example of this design (the one in the kilim) will be welcomed.
But I doubt it exists outside your fantasy.
Prove me wrong if you can…
P.S. I don't see any visual similarity between the medallion and the Nestorian crosses of the photos you posted.