Patrick Weiler
October 5th, 2014 07:06 PM

Dueling with Occam's Razor
First I must introduce the Latin term lex parsimoniae. It makes my post seem more sophisticated.
Horst has taken us on a rather bumpy, torturous ride at breakneck speed, rapidly distancing us from the elegant transformation James Opie describes in Tribal Rugs which turned a sixteenth century medallion pendant design into the bold Qashqa'i Gol of the nineteenth century. "...tribal weavings influenced by commercial workshops are separate from nomadic articles with traditional designs." (Page 96 Tribal Rugs, Opie)
Peter Stone, in Tribal & Village Rugs, mentions the Qashqa'i Medallion "...probably derives from the pendants of medallions of Safavid rugs. See the comparison of pendants in the discussion of Bijar motif K-17"
The salon describes a number of features of this curious design, but it is rather difficult to pinpoint exactly which features of this design are being described. Some aren't even evident in the kilim pictured and others are ambiguously difficult to visualize, much less identify on the kilim - such as the "sets of birds flanking a ‘horned rhombus’ on four sides" which try as I might I can't seem to locate.

The design is said to include a sceptre, which actually looks more like a dorge in the kilim:

A couple of rhombi are on either side of the central motif, or several as noted later in his description.
Here is what a rhombus looks like. It has four sides, with opposing sides of equal length.

OK, what do rhombi have to do with religious iconography? You lost me on that one.

Big Horns. Gotta have 'em. In the motif, they are the appendages from the central gul. Originally (in the Safavid version) there were two at the top, but nowadays there are four in the tribal versions. I think we used to call them latchhooks but that is a descriptive term from rug books encompassing a multitude of similar-looking devices. James Opie argues that they are birds heads.

The mysterious vesica piscis.
Yes, there are religious versions of Jesus within a vesica piscis, but it is a rather long step to argue that it was woven as a rug symbol purposely made without Jesus in it due to a proscription against idolatry.
Here is a stained glass version:

The argument has been made that many Christian-woven rugs contain crosses, such as Armenian rugs etc. but why the purportedly Herki design has become most common in SW Iran instead of the remote SE Turkish region it supposedly came from doesn't seem likely. Unless we can find evidence of a very influential group of underground Christians who subverted the designs of local SW Persian tribes so that they inadvertently co-opted the Christian motif into their most prominent design. Otherwise one would argue that a Qashqa'i rug made its way to SE Turkey and the design was copied there. I would think that this makes more sense than wandering, refugee missionaries snuck their motif into Sassanid Persia between 224 to 651 CE and it miraculously appeared 1,300 years later fully formed in Shiraz.

And birds and fishes, which as hard as I look I am unable to see in the kilim in question.
The Nestorian Christian argument takes us (instead of from the origin to the modern version) from a remote rural modern-era rug version backwards down the rabbit hole to a divinely inspired, mysteriously designed and elaborate Coat of Arms of the Nestorian Missionaries.
Kind of like this Ottoman Coat of Arms I grabbed from the internet.

I'm not buying it.

I did buy, however, a few rugs and bags with versions of the motif in question, so I will post them here for entertainment value!
Here is a Khamseh version. I like the foxes on either side. One bag face has red fox eyes and the other has yellow fox eyes. There must be some religious reason for this, but I haven't been able to research this tribal dichotomy, yet... Opie notes that the Khamseh also used this design. Some liberties were taken, especially in the center of the medallion.

Here is the full bag.

And this version from a Luri carpet. It has the white field and four readily identifiable birds, but not much else in common with the Herki version. But rhombi in plentitude!

It also has a couple of Luri men smoking something in their hubble bubbles, directly below the central medallion.
And this interesting analog from a rather old "study rug" with a most peculiar treatment of the design.

The rug is very worn and could be from the early years of the Khamseh Confederacy.
It will be interesting if Horst can have his anchor piece carbon-dated.
So, let the battle begin!

Patrick Weiler

Martin Andersen
October 7th, 2014 09:15 AM

Hi Patrick

I know you agree, this is just for the ones who might not before have seen the simple no-nonsense connection from the classical palmette motif of the Persian city rugs to the Qashqai medallion. A connection which both historically, geographically, and in basic motif development makes sense - and probably also would be Occam's choice of logic :)

best Martin

Rich Larkin
October 7th, 2014 01:45 PM

Hi Martin,

I'm not weighing in here on the side of Horst's case. (Among other reasons, I don't really understand it.) But I don't find the similarity between your first and second images to be all that obvious except in a general way. Can you point to intermediate forms that improve the argument?

Best regards!


Martin Andersen
October 7th, 2014 03:12 PM

Hi Rich

To be honest: classical Persian court rugs is not something I have any special knowledge about or any special interest in. The illustration is just pointing in a general way to the background of a floral palmette as the origin of the of the Qashgai medallion, and the relation between no 2 and 3 kind of does that in itself. The relation of the no 1 and 2 probably could be better illustrated (in the context of this discussion I simply want use my time going through the literature to find a better match) but I sure hope you agree that no. 2 obviously is a lot more likely to be a palmette motif than a Nestorian composite historically backwards constructed symbol - of which there is no whatsoever visual historical evidence outside Horst essay.

best Martin

Joel Greifinger
October 7th, 2014 06:33 PM

When Opie met Ockham

the elegant transformation James Opie describes in Tribal Rugs which turned a sixteenth century medallion pendant design into the bold Qashqa'i Gol of the nineteenth century
Here are the visuals from Opie that Patrick mentioned. The third picture (the one without a caption) is a detail from a rug identied as "Qashqa'i workshop rug; mid-nineteenth century":

I also think 'ol Billy Ockham would find this route a fair bit more parsimonious than the long march through the "Nestorian Argument."

Joel Greifinger

James McGinnis
October 7th, 2014 06:41 PM

Quashqai medallions
I see quite clearly what Martin is suggesting. The very center of the examples he posted are very clearly analogues to each other.

October 7th, 2014 09:36 PM

Is the floral palmette the origin?


Dinie Gootjes
October 7th, 2014 11:10 PM

Hi Guido,

Yes, the floral palmette is the origin of both your and Horst's medallion, including the centres.
Starting with this one,

the main outline is formed by mirroring the lower half of the red part of the design, becoming the blue in yours. The 'eyes' of what looks increasingly like birds's heads, especially in your bag face, actually derive from the leafy part of the design, see the first two examples Joel gives.
The centre is clearly derived from the same source, as here (I am too lazy to turn the image right side up and go via Steve) :

a bit more stylized here:

and even more stylized here:

And that is your bag face. You can clearly see the receptacle of the original flower form in all examples in this post, in your rug dark blue under the yellow.
It is obvious that every weaver had her own way of realizing the design, adding or leaving out little doodads, changing the relative dimensions, etc, as also shown in Joel's post, but the 'family characteristics' are unmistakeable, I think.


October 8th, 2014 12:31 AM

Hi Dinie,

It's quite late and I'm very busy at the moment.

First I must admit that I haven't read Horst's ideas yet. I just saw the Gashgai (or Luri!) design. Please give me some days and I will tell you an interesting idea I found yesterday in the book on "Goebekli Tepe", Turkey.

In the meantime please do me the favour to look j u s t at the two brown hook designs of the Gashgai/Luri framing the white arch and then look at the hooks of the other two pieces; finally, please have a look at the blue background of the fourth piece showing a bird(rooster?) according to Michael Craycraft "an old nomadic Bakhtiari work certainly before 1890".

The first is Anatolian estimated by B.Frauenknecht around 1830/40.
Second Shahsavan (Frauenknecht mid 19th ).
The Gashgai/Luri is -as you know- from M.Craycraft (dated to mid 19th).

So the pieces are certainly not later than 1870 and could have had their roots in a noncommercial tradition.

Regards Guido

(Hi Dinie,
the first piece is Gashgai,
second Anatolian,
third Bakhtiari
and finally Shahsavan

Horst Nitz
October 8th, 2014 04:40 PM

Hi Patrick,

you are doing well: "And this version from a Luri carpet. It has the white field and four readily identifiable birds, but not much else in common with the Herki version. But rhombi in plentitude!" And you could do better still: there also is the axis, the rosette and four human figures - not all of them visible because partly out of Picture. A distant relative of the flatweave by all means.

You can't see the fishes? They are left and right near the centre.

How the motif got down to SW Iran? That is an easy one too. Nearly half of the population (in the relevant literature a figure of 40% circulates) in that region probably was Christian in the Sassanid era. The Mongol storm had devastated the region thoroughly and when the more central areas recovered and became modernized under the Safavides, the SW was left behind and therefore the composite symbol survived in several transformed versions in the region's folk-art. Some authors have claimed that the motif came down with resettled tribes at the time of the early Safavides; I found no confirmation of this in the specialist literatur on the Safavides. I am referring to this in the Essay and the bibliography. In my opinion there is no basis for the claim that it is a Turkmen heritage göl.



Horst Nitz
October 12th, 2014 01:28 PM

Hi Patrick,


OK, what do rhombi have to do with religious iconography? You lost me on that one.
Does this help?

Saying it somewhat boldly, the rhombus in rugs is what the mandorla is in western two-dimensional Christian arts representations, but is exclusive to Christ. The rhombus may have a tradition of representing the divine that goes back before Christianity. According to Christine Klose in HALI, the rhombus is the oldest medallion form found in rugs.



Patrick Weiler
October 13th, 2014 07:58 PM

Something Fishy
I really like rugs and bags with the design in your kilim. It is bold, mysterious and dramatic. But the strange and imaginative route you have described for it is like putting a square peg in a round hole. It takes a lot of hammering.

Interesting that Pythagoras would be designing Christian rug symbols several hundred years before Christ was born. It is my opinion that many flatweave motifs are derived from the structural constraints of the medium. Crosses, rectangles, triangles etc.
One can imbue them with symbolism, of course. Armenians wove cross symbols into their rugs.

And, yes, the Jesus fish has been used, along with the Greek letters, to designate Christianity.

But the only people who use the motif in your kilim are Moslem Herki Kurds, Qashqa'i and Khamseh?
Other cultures similarly attach significance to simple designs.

If one were to imagine that a sect in a remote region long, long ago wanted to proselytize, that a somewhat more recognizable logo might suffice. Like maybe a cross, which is the only symbol Nestorians use.
Nestorians brought their religion substantially beyond Persia, to China.
Here is what their symbolism looked like in China around 1300 AD:

This is a rather startling deconstruction of the elaborate design on your kilim. If, in fact, it came from Nestorians and traveled with them on their missions.
"Kierkegaard felt a leap of faith was necessary in accepting Christianity due to the paradoxes that exist in Christianity."
I believe that a similar leap of faith is necessary to believe that Nestorian mathematicians designed an elaborate pictogram, which then devolved elsewhere into a simple cross and was only retained in its original shape by Herki Kurds and SW Persian Qashqa'i and Khamseh weavers.

Patrick Weiler