The “Memling” Gul Motif, The Lecture
On October 2, 2010, John Howe (that’s me)
gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program on “The ‘Memling’ Gull Motif.”
As a number of you know, I am a collector, here in Washington, D.C., fortunate to live within walking distance of The Textile Museum. I haunt their free Saturday Rug and Textile Appreciation Mornings and publish this blog so that more folks can enjoy them.
I started collecting with an initial Turkmen focus. Then Anatolian things attracted me, and they still do. But I have become more eclectic, as my collection has grown and my income in retirement has lessened.
I offered as evidence of my current tendencies (which might, sometimes, be described as “collecting the uncollectable”), a quilt
I bought one recent Sunday morning in the Georgetown flea market.
This is a hand-sewn quilt, made in 1949 by a WWII veteran who was a Seabee (many will know that the Seabees were a famously rugged, U.S. military unit who built bridges, roads, air fields and the like, under combat conditions. The word to recruiters of potential Seabees was to look for “smart trouble-makers.”)
This veteran arranged a series of Seabee shoulder patches in a way that could be read as a kind of gul form.
He even managed to quilt in a kind of minor ornament in between the “guls.”
This piece, I joked, had eagles and “C’s” and, even, “B’s,” the latter, something the Turkmen ladies seem not to have managed.
All this by way of demonstrating how dangerous my current eclecticism can be.
But my actual assignment in this RTAM, was to explore the “Memling” gul motif. What follows is an improvement on my “in-the-room” lecture, in which I tussled with Powerpoint.
The “Memling” Gul Motif
The “Memling” gul
is one of the most familiar motifs encountered in rugs and textiles.
Walter Denny describes it as “…perhaps the most popular of all of the classical Anatolian rug motifs to have survived in Anatolian weaving…”
The adjective “Memling,” refers to Hans Memling,
a 15th century, German-born, Netherlandish painter who sometimes used rugs in his paintings with this motif in their fields.
You can just see another version of this motif
in the rug at the feet of the red-robed madonna in this Memling work.
Here is a closer look at the designs in this rug.
Notice the relative complexity of the internal instrumentation in the two Memling guls in this rug.
Perhaps the most frequently cited use by Memling of a rug with this device is in this still life.
Some analysts have suggested that Memling painted the rug part of the painting above from a projected image.
Here is a flat reconstruction of the entire rug used in the previous image.
I, personally, find this a satisfying composition.
There is something a little arbitrary about which rug devices have become associated with a given painter’s name. Memling used a variety of rugs with different designs in his paintings.
The medallion in the rug in the Memling painting above is quite different from what we call the “Memling gul.”
There are indications in the literature that Memling used a wider variety of rugs in his paintings than any other painter of his time.
The Anatomy of the Memling Gul
Let’s talk about what might be called “the anatomy of the Memling gul.”
Let’s begin with the earliest examples we seem to have.
Perhaps the oldest rendition of the Memling gul in an existing carpet is that on the field of the fragment below.
If you have been to the Konya rug museum, you have seen the wonderful fragment below.
This piece is another of the oldest examples of a Memling gul “in the wool” that we currently have. It is estimated to have been woven in the 16th century in the Canakkale area.
Let’s compare the guls in the two actual fragments and those in the two paintings above. If we include the possible gul created by the negative space usages in the Konya rug museum fragment, there are six different oldest guls to be compared.
I’m going to array them in a vertical column to retain size and detail. Labels are above the image.
15th Century Pile Fragment
Konya Museum, Major Gul
Konya Museum, Minor Negative Space Gul
Memling Still Life Most Frequent Gul
Memling Still Life, Anomalous Gul
Memling, Red-robed Madonna Gul
And here they are in smaller versions to permit more ready general comparison.
The Memling guls in the two paintings above, and these two actual rug fragments with Memling devices in them, comprise the oldest versions of this device we have. So they provide a basis for beginning to delineate the common features the most “classical” versions exhibit.
It’s clear that the interior instrumentation of even these oldest Memling guls varies widely. But the outer components seem pretty uniform and provide a basis for a beginning description of essential Memling gul features focused on this perimeter area.
Comparison of the oldest versions of the Memling gul we have indicates that they have a least three common features.
First, they all contain one or more stepped medallions or lozenges.
If there are multiple stepped medallions, they are nested inside one another.
Second, there are hook devices on the outside corners of the outermost stepped medallion.
These hooks move outward before curling back.
Third, the stepped medallion(s) and the hooks are, usually, encompassed by an octagon.
Walter Denny calls attention to another distinguishing feature of the Memling gul: it is two-dimensional.
There is no hint of one design element passing over or under one another.
That does occur in some versions of other designs like the “small pattern Holbein gul,” below.
This small pattern Holbein device shows clear three-dimensionality with its “interlacing” effects.
Memling guls are not like that. All the elements of any Memling gul are arrayed in a single plane.
How Does the Central Instrumentation of Memling Guls Vary?
Having seen, “en passant,” that the center instrumentation on even the oldest Memling guls we have varies widely, let’s, next, map that variation more closely in these oldest examples.
Here, again, is our apparent current oldest “in the wool” example of a Memling gul.
The internal instrumentation of the center of the gul on this fragment is one of the most frequently seen. Inside the red-ground stepped medallion is a multi-color, eight-pointed star form with a white diamond form at its center. This diamond is decorated with a red “dot.” Notice that while the colors of the triangles that make up the star vary, they do not do so in a way that obscures our ability to see the “star” of which they are a part. The look of this center instrumentation is simple and spacious.
Here, again, also, is a closer detail is the major gul of the Konya rug museum fragment.
The center instrumentation of this, major Memling gul, has four white-ground double ram’s horn devices joined at their base to form a cruciform motif. This motif is embossed with a dark line that is punctuated at its top, bottom, both sides and center by small diamond forms, each with a dot of different color at its center.
The center of the minor, white-ground, Memling gul in the negative space of this old, actual fragment,
is taken up, largely with a red-ground diamond. This diamond is decorated at its center by four circular shapes, arranged to form a punctuated rectangle, with its colors on the diagonal. Each of these circular devices is “dotted” at its center with a further articulated device that we cannot make out. In addition, the rectangular grouping of circular devices is further punctuated at its top, bottom, sides and center by tiny cruciform devices each with a contrasting dot at its center.
The center instrumentation of these two guls seems complex when described, but both give a visual impression of simplicity.
Here is the instrumentation of the gul that is used most frequently in the rug in the Memling still life we saw above.
It is comprised of a central white-ground cruciform device with diamond shapes and embossing red ground decorations at its ends. The device is enriched by the placement in each of its quarters of another device with an overall triangular shape, but which is composed of two joined hook forms with an opening between them. At the base of these two hook forms is a diamond shape with details we cannot make out.
Again, the effect is simpler than the description.
The center of the two “anomalous” guls in the Memling still life rug looks like this.
The inner-most stepped lozenge (yellow-orange) is decorated with a green ground cruciform device with an eight-pointed star nested in it. The star has a red diamond form at its center. We can’t see all of the detail of the green cruciform device, but there are diamond or arrow-shaped endings that include a white ground diamond with a center dot. There is some minor decoration at each of the four diagonal points (perhaps just a protruding triangle) on the green-ground cruciform device.
Once more, the visual effect is much simpler than the words required to describe it suggest.
The instrumentation of the center of the two guls in the Memling “red-robed madonna” painting looks like this.
I’m not going to describe it, but you can see that it is different from, and more complex than, the others in this set of six oldest Memling guls we have.
So a general, initial impression is confirmed by close examination: the central, internal instrumentation of the six oldest Memling guls we have identified, vary widely.
We could probably safely infer that such variation will occur more generally among various Memling guls used by weavers, but I checked a few more. Here are the results.
The first sort of variation inside the innermost stepped medallion might be seen as either an instance of mistake or of the inability to reverse even the simplest of designs.
The image on the left above is the front side of this little, embroidered Uzbek pouch. A cruciform center has an eight-pointed star nested within it. The center of the star is a red-ground square within which a white diamond is nested.
The image above on the right (repeated immediately below for ease of reference) is the reverse side of this same pouch.
The maker has failed to render four of the points in the eight-pointed star correctly. The design element on the left has been flipped horizontally so that it repeats with one on the right. And the design element at the top has been flipped vertically to ape the one on the bottom. The result is an overall device that is half diamond and half star. It is so simple to do correctly that it might be seen as an unthinking error. But the fact that it was done twice, in two different orientations, and in embroidery, suggests that something more was involved.
An out-of-town speaker at a recent rug event was still explaining such deviations as deliberate actions by weavers to avoid competing with the perfection of god, but I suspect the reasons are more mundane.
We noted above that our actual 15th century fragment has a central instrumentation the features an eight-pointed star. Here, is another, later example of this center, provided here to make a subsequent point about such star usages.
Notice that the star in the image above is composed of a series of triangles. The “star” is produced by controlling the color of the triangles in particular locations.
Now, look at the centers of the guls in the fragment below (some are damaged).
Notice that the colors in the triangles that define the character of the designs in the centers of these guls could have been used to produce eight-pointed stars, but were not.
Instead, the colors have been scrambled to produce a, still colorful, but vaguer design. This is a further way in which this order of center instrumentation varies.
In the rug below,
the instrumentation of the center of the guls (moving from the inside out) begins with a cross-like center device (with a “flower-form” character) inside a diamond. The diamond has 10 hooks arrayed around its edges. The resulting device decorates the center of the inner-most stepped medallion.
In this next version, below,
the center of the inner-most stepped medallion is occupied by a shield-like device with a quartered use of color, a center, striped “pole” divider, and faint, three-pronged, rake-like elements moving out on each side.
The gul centers in the rug below
Sometimes the center of this type can be seen to be
a further diamond form with surrounding hooks of its own.
Here, below, is one more variation on this type.
Here is a version,
the center of which is dominated by a quartered diamond device. Color use varies on the diagonal and each quarter is further decorated by a single, internal hook form. An additional level of hooks has been added on the outside, something we will see again.
Sometimes in more abstracted versions,
a large center space, within the inner-most stepped medallion, is taken up with rectangular, triangular, and diamond devices that fill it entirely. Notice that in the version number of hooks has been reduced to eight.
The Memling guls in the bag face below are abstracted so that the stepped character of their medallions is nearly lost.
Here is an Anatolian rug with a Konya palette, but some
Ladik design usages.
I include it here because its border
exhibits another internal instrumentation, with small, dotted squares placed all around a center diamond for with a quartered use of color.
We will encounter this usage in less disciplined versions in Anatolian pieces that lean toward or were made in the east, like this Cappadocia example.
We’ll talk about this again, but it might be good also to at least note here that Memling guls done in slit tapestry are relatively rare.
Petsopolous gives a couple of examples in black and white photos. Here, first, is an overall shot of a kilim with field full of abstracted Memling guls.
We can decide individually whether this device is a Memling gul, but if it is, the thing we want to focus on here is how simple its internal instrumentation is. A shallow, rectangular, central bar has four triangular forms placed above and below it, so that they seem near “wings” (although the device seems entirely geometric). This device is a single unit and one color.
We could multiply examples of central instrumentation usage, but you have seen some of the ways in which it varies.
Where and by Whom Is the Memling Gul Used?
The description of this RTAM program in The Textile Museum’s Members Magazine indicated that the Memling motif is “found in virtually every weaving culture.”
So a next question is “Where can we actually find it being used?”
Well, the defining examples are Anatolian, so that’s the place to start.
Memling Guls in Anatolian Weavings
The Konya yellow ground rugs, importantly, feature the Memling gul.
But there are a number of other Anatolian usages.
First, there are Konya variations. In the fragmented rug below, the field ground is red and the yellow ground usage has been moved to borders.
Notice that this is a rug in which the eight-pointed star could have been produced in the gul centers, but in which the weaver opted to vary the colors to produce a different, vaguer device.
Below is another Konya usage,
Next, is a simple, but lovely, Konya yastik.
the centers of which are almost empty. This rug is estimated to have been woven in the 18th century.
The next rug has the sort of Memling guls in which additional layers of hooks are piled onto the central sufficient gul.
This damaged rug is estimated to have been woven by Kurdish weavers in central Anatolia in the 18th century.
This is a Konya yatak, a sleeping rug. It’s long pile often not sheared after weaving.
Memling guls were also woven in pile rugs woven in western Anatolia. The rug below is one such.
It has a good range of strong colors and is estimated to have been woven in the 18th century.
The next rug is a 19th century rug with a nearly identical Memling gul.
The long rug below is my favorite western Anatolian Memling gul example.
Its guls are given an especially spacious character by reducing the size of their simple central instrumentation. Notice, also, that the major devices are entirely encompassed by a white-ground octagon. One result of this is that white ground octagons can be read in the negative space. Each of this second set of Memling guls has a large, segmented, multi-colored diamond for at its center. This rug is another 18th century piece.
The rug below is the one on the cover of J. Iten-Maritz’ book “Turkish Carpets.”
Iten-Maritz sees the Memling gul as having entered Anatolia in its western parts, carried by Turkmen. Interestingly, he does not include any examples of the Memling gul in his discussion of rugs woven in the Konya area. He describes this rug as one woven in Lake Manyas areas of western Turkey in 1900.
The piece below is another Anatolian yastik. It is an 18th century piece in the Dennis Dodds collection.
I’m not sure of its attribution, but it resembles pieces Morehouse places in western Anatolia. Again, it is possible to read a second white-ground, Memling in the negative space.
The next piece is similar to two of the western Anatolian rugs we have seen above.
Notice its unusual meander border and that the compartmentalizing of the major guls makes it more difficult to envision white-ground Memling guls in its negative space. This rug was woven in the village of Yuntag.
Here is another nice yastik.
The blue-greens and the red suggest that it should be placed in western Anatolia.
While we’re treating pile Memling gul examples from western Turkey, let’s include on in mixed technique.
This is an Yuncu rug rug woven in the north part of western Anatolia. The weaver has inserted occasional bands of flatweave, one of which includes several small Memling guls.
Here is a closer looks at the drawing of these small guls.
Simple, but all the Memling requirements are met.
Varieties of Memling guls are also seen in rugs and textiles of eastern Anatolia.
In the fragment below, versions of the Memling gul appear in both the field and border.
Notice that the internal instrumentation of Memling guls in both the field and border features somewhat more boisterous uses of the small dotted square devices we saw early in this piece.
The colorful rug below is attributed to Kurdish weavers in east Anatolian.
The two Memling guls in this rug are a little more than halfway down. Here is one of them.
Notice that the internal instrumentation of this gul lacks only a stepped medallion to qualify itself as a Memling gul.
The eastern Anatolian yastik, below, is of the sort that have their Memling guls buried in additional levels of hooks.
Note that it has some small, abstracted Memling guls used in its field as filler devices. This piece is from the Brian Morehouse collection. It is attributed to Sivas. Morehouse, many will know, is the author of the only book written to date on yastiks.
I don’t have an attribution for the rug below, but I’ll place it here as the last Anatolian pile piece I will include,
because it has another nice array of spaciously instrumented Memling guls.
Many Anatolian flatweaves that feature brocade and sumak exhibit Memling guls. This may be in part the result of the fact that these weaves can handle long vertical color changes (required of large Memling guls). We’ll note this again when we talk about piece made using slit tapestry.
The piece below is a fragment of an Anatolian cuval (a bedding bag).
An aside about this format may be in order, although they occur more frequently on the market now.
Anatolian cuval are used in the orientation below.
The striped areas in weft-faced tapestry are taken around behind and joined to form the sides and back of this bedding bag format. The more heavily decorated areas are placed toward the front to be seen.
Here is an image of a row of a la cuval in an Anatolian tent.
Here is a detail of another similar Anatolian cuval.
It’s not easy to see, but an additional layer of hooks has been added on the outer edge of the white-ground Memling gul in this cuval.
Below is a closer view of the Anatolian cuval we saw above as an example of correct “in use” orientation.
This piece also tests our willingness to allow the possibility of a second set of Memling guls on this cuval.
To do so we must be willing to see this second set of guls as passing behind the tan-brown horizontal band that crosses its center. I wouldn’t allow it, but acknowledge that different defensible readings might be possible.
Before we leave Anatolian pieces with Memling guls, we need to note that few pieces woven in slit tapestry have them. With a purposeful search some can be found like those in the borders of this Aydin kilim fragment.
Here is a close look at this device.
It’s simple, but missing only the enclosing octagon.
Marla Mallett confirmed for me that the reason we see few Memling guls in slit tapestry kilims is because the long vertical color changes required by larger versions of this device weaken the structure in ways unacceptable to most slit tapestry weavers.
One counter strategy is to abstract the more classic versions of the device so as to shorten the vertical color changes to the extent possible. That’s why the guls in this Aydin kilim above look the way they do.
Sometimes a slit tapestry weaver reaching for a particular aesthethic effect will use a more classic version of the Memling gul anyway.
Here, below, is a kilim woven in slit tapestry that has taller Memling guls in its border.
Here is a closer look at one of these taller slit tapestry Memling guls.
This weaver has paid the structural price for the aesthetic effect she wanted (and it is visually effective). The seller of this kilim advises that it is a better candidate for wall display than floor use, acknowledging that its structure is likely too weak for the latter.
Memling Guls in Caucasian Rugs and Textiles
Memling guls appear in many Caucasian rugs.
The rug below is the first piece in Mike Tschebull’s still useful catalog, “Kazak.”
The next Kazak rug is one with interesting human figures,
as well as a central column of Memling guls. It is dated 1888.
The rug below is from the Jim Burns collection.
The large, borderless, fragment below looks Turkish to some, but was sold to it owner as Caucasian.
It features eight, large Memling guls, and possibly more, in its negative space. Zakatalan has been suggested, but without specification of indicators.
Next, is a very nice, small Genje rug,
Below is a large detail of a Shirvan long rug with Memling guls and good color.
The internal instrumentation of these Memling guls, featuring large scale double ram’s horn devices moving out to the four cardinal points, is distinctive.
The handsome rug below
is attributed to Kurdish weavers in the southern Caucasus. It is a Burns collection rug, estimated to have been woven in the first half of the 19th century.
The next rug is also attributed to the southern Caucasus.
Nice, wide color palette.
The presence of Memling guls in a Caucasian rug often leads to a guess that it was woven in the Moghan area.
In this case, the guess would be correct.
Ian Bennett provides the Moghan example below,
This is another Memling gul rug in which it seems possible to read a second set of white-ground Memling guls in the negative spaces between the larger colored devices.
We don’t usually expect Memling guls when we think “Talish,”
I don’t have a close attribution, but this Caucasian rug
has some colorful, damaged Memling guls on a dark field. They are effectively encompassed by a spectacular, out-sized, white-ground border.
In his book “Sumac,” John Wertime walks back and forth between the Caucasus and NW Iran as he examines beautiful flatwoven pieces.
The piece below is one of several he labels “Qarabagh,” putting them on the Caucasian side.
Notice that the Memling guls on this piece are tall with more step levels in their guls that we have usually seen. The internal instrumentation with large “cruciform” devices with fillers arranged around them, is also distinctive.
This spectacular salt bag
Note also that the smaller stepped devices in the main border, lack hooks and have quarter-colored diamond centers, but effectively echo aspects of the field guls.
A third Qarabagh sumac bag is the one below.
This large Qarabagh bedding bag gets an imposing, two-opposing page treatment in Wertime’s book.
(the image above does not begin to convey the size and impact the image in Wertime’s book projects)
Memling Guls in Persian Rugs and Textiles
The fact that Memling guls were also used in pieces woven in Iran, is sometimes overlooked in the literature, but used it was by weavers in a variety of Iranian locations.
Note: I am going to begin my treatment of Memling guls in pieces woven in Iran by continuing a bit with some of Wertime’s “Sumak” book pieces. Wertime often provides pretty specific geographic attributions. I am going to deal with his images using more general descriptions. I am going to treat pieces attributed to the “Shahsavan,” as Persian, despite the fact that many Shahsavan migrated between what is now called the Caucasus and NW Iran. Shahsavan items labeled “Moghan” may be particularly troublesome, in this regard, since they may well have been woven in the current Caucasus.
The piece below is a Shahsavan mafrash panel not included among Wertime’s images.
It has Memling guls solidly arrayed in close, diamond-shaped compartments. It seems almost Turkman to me.
This detail of one of its guls shows
how crisp the drawing is of a classic Memling gul instrumentation.
The very attractive Wertime Shahsavan sumac mafrash example below also has classic Memling gul drawing.
Next, is a complete Khamseh Shahsavan khorjin set,
Third quarter, 19th century.
The piece below is a lovely Shahsavan face with classic Memling guls.
Notice that color use prevents us from “seeing” a second set of Memling guls.
Focus the area surrounding the center diamond form.
We can “see” glimmers of a possible, negative space gul in the white ground quarters at the upper right and lower left, but the fact that the upper left quarter has a blue ground and the lower right one has a red ground, prevents us from envisioning a complete, secondary, negative space Memling device.
The next Shahsavan panel is full of crisp Memling gul devices.
Here, only the dark ground color and filler devices separate the guls.
Below, is a Shahsavan khorjin half with classic Memling gul drawing, albeit within rectangular compartments.
Notice that its stepped medallions have only one step and how its eight-pointed stars almost entirely fill their interiors. White is used effectively in this piece.
The next piece is the gloriously colorful, complete Shahsavan khorjin set below.
Even more than with the prior piece, white is used with an electrifying effect.
And while its back has not a gul of any sort, its color is too glorious not to show.
The three large Memling guls that take up most of its field are filled with a variety of bands, diamonds and rectangles.
Their center instrumentation is like another Memling gul we saw early on, as well as the one that follows here.
Here there are also additions: a white-ground rectangle outside the hooked, stepped medallion, and the dark-ground field of the encompassing octagon is packed with small filler devices.
The next sumac panel is similar to another above but this time with great greens.
Only small filler devices separate the Memling guls.
The image below may be a little off,
but this Shahsavan panel is a winner with eight classic Memling guls.
The Persian Kurds used the Memling gul. Below is a very old rug from the Jim Burns collection.
Three Memling guls decorate square-ish compartments in its field. Burns sees this rug as 18th century or earlier.
Jaff Kurd bags sometimes seem ubiquitous.
The owner of this one said he owns this one entirely because of the four large Memling guls in its elem.
Another smaller Kurdish piece
Jaff Kurd bags are frequent. Jaff Kurd rugs are rare.
Here is a closer look at the instrumentation of them.
The next rug is a very tribal piece with three Memling guls at its bottom.
It is labeled NW Persian despite looking a lot like some Anatolian rugs.
Another Kurdish long rug with Memling guls.
Up close these guls look like this.
One more nice little Kurd khorjin face I found.
In the catalog accompanying the N.Y. Hajji Baba Society’s celebration of their 75th anniversary, are several nice pieces with Memling guls.
The Bijar rug below is one of these. It has the most of 27 Memling guls in its field in great color.
Notice that this is a piece in which color use prevents us from suggesting that a second set of Memling guls might be seen in the negative space between the major devices. This rug is part of the Feldman collection.
South Persian weavers also use the Memling gul. Here are a few examples.
A first mixed technique piece below, has Memling guls in the bottom pile section and
The next South Persian piece is this khorjin half
that shows that the Qashqai sometimes used Memling guls in the corners of their rugs with a 2-1-2 design format.
Here is another look at one of these corner guls.
One more open, mixed technique, South Persian camel bag shows a number of classic Memling guls.
The South Persian Khamseh also used the Memling gul, but I can only give you a peek.
The image above is a detail of a Khamseh main carpet with part of a classically drawn Memling gul just visible on the right.
Moving, next, eastward in northern Iran, we encounter pieces with Memling guls woven by the Quchon Kurds.
P.R.J. Ford, from whose book, the rug above has been taken, notes the use of this gul in paintings by Memling, and even provides an example of a Memling painting in which it is used, but he refuses to use the “Memling” designation himself.
Instead, he refers to the device we have been calling the “Memling gul” as the “Lakharbi” gul, and says that it is associated with an Uzbek tribe of that name. He provides this detail of
an Uzbek flatweave with a Lakharbi gul usage.
Ford’s move here is the sort that signals that some folks are insistent that what we call the “Memling” device should indicate explicitly that it is sourced in Central Asia.
Ford does not debate the possibility that the Quchon Kurds might well have obtained the gul from Anatolian sources, rather than from their Uzbek neighbors, who frequently pillaged them.
But he is unwilling to call a gul, he thinks he can link directly to a proper historic source in Central Asia, by a name based on occasional use, centuries later, by a Dutch painter.
Here is one more Quchon Kurd rug with a variety of gul forms, ten of them of the “Memling-Lakharbi” type.
Jenny Housego seems particularly to have liked it. She made it the cover piece for her little classic “Tribal Rugs,” a source still consulted and cited, despite its having been published in 1978.
Balancing several indicators, Housego says that this rug was woven in the Veramin area in north central Iran. It sports ten Memling guls.
Memling Guls in Baluch Rugs and Textiles
Although many of the rugs we call “Baluch” were likely woven in Iran, they are often grouped with Central Asian pieces. Here we’ll given them their own transitional place.
Azadi, at the beginning of his book on Baluch rugs, give this drawing,
which seems to promise that the Baluch did weave designs that look very much like Memling guls. But it is easy to make drawings; the question is whether we can find some in-the-wool examples.
And it turns out that we can pretty readily do so. There are at least four full Memling guls visible in this overall image.
Here is a closer look at one of these two pairs.
In the next Azadi Baluch below, the Memling guls are spare and abstracted (as they all are in these examples).
The drawing is similar to some of the Shahsavan renditions we saw above.
A third Azadi Baluch example is similar,
but with more color.
We’re beyond Azadi, now, but here is a nice, white-ground niche design example
with more articulation visible in the centers of its Memling guls.
Memling Guls in Central Asian Rugs and Textiles
One reason that the Memling gul is often seen to be an ancient device is that it was used by a number of weaving groups in Central Asia.
This is the particular Memling gul design most frequently found in Turkmen rugs and textiles.
This design is most usually seen in Yomut flatwoven pieces, like the chuval below.
A closer look.
Notice that the Memling guls are classically composed, excepting that there is not an encompassing octagon. These Yomut guls tend to be a little flatter than most classical renditions.
Here is another Yomut chuval, this time in pile, that has taller versions of the Memling gul in its field.
Memling guls were also used by the Saryk.
This is a lovely, fragmented Saryk torba face with twelve Memling guls in its field.
In his Moshkova translation, George O’Bannon included a simpler looking Saryk piece, a rare mafrash format,
There are two more Turkmen pieces with Memling guls in the N.Y. Hajji 75th anniversary catalog. First, is the Tekke “brides’ rug” below, which was once owned by Thatcher,
Another lovely “Turkmen” bag face, in the N.Y. Hajji catalog with lots of Memling guls, is seen below.
Below is a center slice of the image above to let you see these guls.
This piece is in the Jeffries-Munkacsi collection.
In the 1980 TM exhibition catalog, “Turkmen,” Jon Thompson pointed out that an Ersari main carpet, with major guls of the “gul-i-gul” type in its field,
had Memling guls at the centers of these major devices.
They are difficult to make out in the image above without magnification, but up closer,
they are classic.
The Memling gul was also used in non-Turkman Central Asian textiles.
As we saw at the very beginning, with the little embroidered bag,
the Uzbeks used the Memling device.
Here are eight of them on this Uzbek, julkiur sleeping rug.
Notice that these Uzbek guls are very like those of many of the earliest Anatolian examples we have. The fact that we have many very similar drawings over time by widely geographically separated weavers is part of what is taken to suggest that this is an ancient device.
George O’Bannon once suggested that the nice bag, below,
You can see in the images below,
that the guls on this bag are what P.R.J. Ford called the “Lakharbi” gul and identified as an ancient Uzbek usage.
The next piece is also Uzbek.
It is a long, narrow bag similar to a balisht that opens at the top. The Uzbeks call this format a “karchin.” This one has three, poorly drawn, but clear Memling guls. It was woven before the end of the 19th century.
Here is a second Uzbek karchin with Memling guls.
Its internal gul instrumentation is a little more complex. It is estimated to have been woven either at the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century.
The Kyrgyz wove a similar format that they called a “chavadan.” The piece below is a fragmented Kyrgyz chavadan with Memling guls.
Here are two more Kyrgyz chavadans.
This first one is more crisply and classically drawn.
Here is the second on which is similar.
It features a graphic, white ground border and ten large Memling guls with large scale center instrumentation.
Some have said that it is Uzbek. Others say that it’s Kyrgyz. Still others admit they don’t know.
I mostly just like the large Memling guls, but keep looking, listening and comparing.
For example, compare the internal instrumentation of the guls on my rug with that in the guls on one of the Kyrgyz chavadans we just examined.
It seems to me that the outside portions of the central instrumentation on both of these guls (the area surrounding the center diamond forms) are very similar.
If this is so, does this suggest that my rug could be Kyrgyz?
(Two experienced collectors offered from the back of the room, that my piece might be Anatolian, something no one has suggested before.)
One last thought about the Memling gul usages on my rug.
It may be another piece in which the placement of the major guls creates a negative space design that could also be read to be a Memling gul.
The Karakalpaks also used the Memling gul, and this long rug is an example.
Another Karakalpak weaving, this time much smaller, completes our glance at Central Asian weaver uses of the Memling gul.
The Karakalpaks called this exquisite little piece an “eshik kas.” It was used as a decoration over the door on the inside of a Karakalpak trellis tent. It was assembled with other weavings to flank the door.
My Suspicions About Areas Where the Memling Gul May Not Have Been Used
As we noted earlier, the description of this session in the Textile Museum’s Membership Magazine indicated that the Memling gul “is found in virtually every weaving culture.”
And given this device’s simplicity, that may be a statement dangerous to contest.
But I’ve been hanging around the rug world now for a few years, and this statement challenged me to jot a list of areas from which I did not think I had seen an instance of a Memling gul.
Here is my list. I don’t think I have seen Memling guls in textiles from :
o East Turkestan
o India (astounding, if true)
o Southeast Asia
o The Americas
o Sub-Saharan Africa
I did a little probing of three of these categories.
The “Navajo” Part of The Americas,”
Each of these weaving traditions have the design vocabulary needed to produce the Memling gul, but none of them did, excepting for an occasional Navajo example,
during the late period when the post managers began to influence the designs woven.
Here is the closest Tibetan example I found.
And here is the closest Chinese example I could identify.
It may well be that there are some plausible instances of the Memling gul in the weaving cultures I have listed above, but I don’t know of them.
There are a couple of concluding things.
First, in the 1980 exhibition catalog, “Turkmen,” Jon Thompson considered the questions of why the Memling gul is shaped as it is and why it is so important to many weavers and weaving cultures.
Read Thompson’s words:
“The…motif nicknamed the Memling gul, occupies a very important place in the design vocabulary of the tribal and village rugs of Turkey, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, including the nomadic Kirgiz (ed. also Iran). It is so old, and yet so tenaciously held in the memory of local people, that its importance to them cannot be doubted. No one so far has managed to find out why it is so important to them or the reasons for its form, an intriguing puzzle for the future…”
Consider, also, Walter Denny’s potentially controversial claim in the Textile Museum catalog for his exhibition “The Classical Tradition in Anatolian Carpets,” in 2003.
(Ed. The Memling gul) “…almost certainly derives from the medium of weaving itself.
“We may suppose that among Anatolian classical carpets, the Memling carpets are most likely to have descended from nomadic prototypes without the intervention of ideas from other media.”
Think about Denny’s statement. He seems to be saying that he believes that the Memling gul arose directly out of a weaving context. Think about it especially in relation to what Thompson says about how important the Memling gul seems to be and the tenaciousness with which those who employ it hang on to it.
We are usually led to expect that designs in Islamic cultures originate in non-textile media and subsequently migrate to textiles. But if both Thompson and Denny are right, why did Islamic artisans put the Memling gul only on their textiles?
I looked around in my Islamic art books for some sign of the Memling gul migrating from other media, but my question just got multiplied.
Why does the Memling gul seem not to occur in Islamic architecture?
Why does it not jump at us from their metal work?
(The piece above is a spitoon.)
Why do we seem not to see the Memling gul in Islamic ceramics?
Why is it not more visible in their furniture?
Or their weapons?
Or in their very considerable calligraphy?
Why did they not put something as important as the Memling gul seems to have been to them, at least on their coffee cups?
Something we would assuredly have done.
So this is what you take away from this session: Look for Memling guls in the Islamic world.
Look for them anywhere there, except on the textiles.
If you find some, you will have the makings of another RTAM lecture, and perhaps a great deal more.
This, you are no doubt noting thankfully, is the end of the lecture.
We also had some material with Memling guls on it in the room in this RTAM session. To see that you need to use the link below:
or return to the entry page and click the second red text selection.
R. John Howe
I received two comments that seem useful to add here as an addendum.
First Brian Morehouse writes:
“The oldest extant example is unlike any of the others in that its rows are offset which space between them forms a ‘sort of star motif.’”
“Also there is a small, maybe Yastik size one dated to 1460 in a French miniature belonging to the Duke Rene d Anjou…Bibliotek National, Vienna. “Historical Carpets” pg. 69.
“…the original photo is not very good and the printing in the book is bad
…I also mention this piece in the Yastik book because if you use the feet of the person standing on it one can make an educated guess as to the possible size…certainly the width. It is unlikely given its width that it was a runner…so possibly a Memling Yastik…or small rug, etc.”
And Fred Mushkat writes:
“Since I spend way to much time thinking about warp-faced bands, I have a comment from that perspective. There is no doubt that the Memling gul is very important, and old motif. Given its importance it is curious that it does not appear on warp-faced bands, where vertical and horizontal elements are easily accomplished.
“There are in my opinion, design precursors to the Memling gul, one of which appears quite frequently.”
(Ed. Fred said that his word “precursor” is licensed by the generally agreed notion that flatwoven structures are older than pile structures.
I added that there are instances of devices in some pile pieces that seem very like the device in his Shahsavan bands. Here, below, is one example from a rug in the Jim Burns collection, with commentary repeated from my lecture text above.)
“The colorful rug below is attributed to Kurdish weavers in east Anatolian.
“The two Memling guls in this rug are a little more than halfway down. Here is one of them.
Notice that the internal instrumentation of this gul lacks only a stepped medallion to qualify itself as a Memling gul.”
It is this internal device that seems very like the precursors on Fred’s bands.
My thanks to Brian and to Fred for these interesting and useful additional comments.
R. John Howe