18th and 19th Century Anatolian Carpets: Keshishian and Seidman
On March 8, 2008, Harold Keshishian and Michael Seidman gave a “Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning” at The Textile Museum here in Washington, DC. Their subject was “18th and 19th Century Anatolian Carpets.”
This session drew a crowd. Standing room only in the Myers’ Room.
Daniel Walker, the TM’s Director, introduced them
saying that Harold is a long-time dealer and collector in the Washington, DC area. That Michael is a molecular biologist who is also an experienced collector. Both Harold and Michael are long-time friends of the Museum and members of the TM Board of Directors. Harold is one of the founders of the “RATM” programs. Both are frequent presenters in them.
Such a program requires a lot of joint preparation.
Michael (right) took the lead in presentation, but Harold (left) was equally active. The materials presented are from Harold’s extensive collection.
Michael began by saying that “late” is a word that collectors sometimes apply to pieces owned by others do not want applied to their own. What they (we) would prefer, of course, is the word “early.” Michael said that one thing to be noted about the pieces presented in this “rug morning” is that they legitimately merit the word “early.”
Michael also referenced the organization of Dennis Dodds’ recent RATM program on yastiks, noting that it followed a frequent pattern in treating Turkish rugs and textiles, a geographic one. West, central, and east. Michael said that he and Harold had decided to depart from this more usual organizational arrangement and would treat the rugs they presented primarily in terms of similarity of design regardless of attribution.
They began with rugs with “niche” designs, popularly called “prayer rugs.”
Michael said that this particular niche design is of the “head and shoulders” variety.
This rug, repeated unobstructed immediately below, is a 17th-18th century Kula rug with “Transylvanian” overtones in its “Ottoman” style border.
There are several things to be noticed about this rug. First, as is the case with many niche designs, the rug is woven upside down in relation to its pattern. That is this rug was started at the top of the image of it presented here.
Despite the level of skill displayed in executing the fairly complex curvilinear design in the spandrels, the weaver of this piece seems not to have been able to weave the ewer under the niche upside down so that it would appear right side up when the rug is oriented with the niche pointing up. The result is that the ewer is upside down in this piece.
Rug 1 has an “Ottoman” border containing a rosette and very stylized leaves. Variations on this theme, sometimes more sinuously drawn, are characteristic of “Transylvanian” carpets.
This rug once belonged to Mr. Myers and was part of the TM’s collection. Myers sometimes withdrew rugs and gave them away or sold them. Rug 1 still has the tag with the TM inventory number on its back.
The second rug was also attributed to the Kula family and is estimated to have been woven in the 18th century.
Rug 2 has three implied arches marked off by two blue, decorated “column” forms. Notice that the “columns” are abstracted so that their pediment bases are mostly gone below the points. This abstraction will continue in some pieces we will see later.
Another thing to notice about Rug 2 is that, like Rug 1, it has a “cross-panel” compartment above the niche.
Cross-panels are fairly rare in oriental rugs, but they appear on some Turkman pieces (like the engsi) and they occur quite frequently in Anatolian rugs.
Rug 3 was a Ladik, also estimated to the 18th century.
This rug has great color. The blue is especially striking and it has a purple. Compared to the first two rugs, it shows a progressive movement of design toward geometric abstraction. The border becomes more stylized on the Ladik, as are the serrated leaves in the spandrel.
It has the characteristic “tulips” pointing down, another instance of weaver inability to draw a device reflected 180 degrees.
Harold noted that there are faint floral designs in the lower corners of the red field of this piece.
He said that it seems likely that at sometime in the past these floral device area were were rewoven with the field color. They are likely visible now because of the way in which the color of the repair wool has changed with age.
As we went along sometimes pieces, additional to those on the front board, were held up and discussed. The first of these “held up” pieces was the Ladik below. (I will label these held up pieces with letters.)
Held up rug A
It shows further conventionalization of design, especially in its main border
The next rug was also held up. It is an 18th century Ghiordes.
Held up rug B
Harold said that this piece has elements that are similar to the Kulas. It is paper-thin and has lots of cotton. Note the cross-panels at the top and bottom of the field.
Harold said that he bought this piece, in part, because of its nice green.
Asked from the audience, he described the field color as “apricot.” He added that the colors in this piece have changed dramatically since it was woven, demonstrating that some natural dyes also fade with age.
Rug 4 was a Melas, that like Rug 1 above, has a “head and shoulders” niche design.
The patterning is conventional for a Melas. Colors are a little faded, but the composition is good, the drawing is precise, and it exhibits a good purple.
The next rug was held up and was a third example of a “head and shoulders” niche design.
Held up rug C
Although this piece has features that would place it in various parts of Anatolian (for example, the “jewelry” devices in its field and the “Memling” guls in its border), Harold placed it in central Turkey.
The next rug was also held up.
Held up rug D
This piece has good colors and is full of interesting designs. They are so varied that no attribution beyond Anatolian was offered for it.
In an exchange after this session, Michael Seidman observed: “Rug D has a very coarse weave, lots of single wefting (unlike every other rug in the program). If the borders had been wider I might have thought it to be North African-19th cent, in the Anatolian manner. As it is, we are unsure of its provenance.”
A further held up rug was this Makri.
Held up rug E
Makri is a reference to a bay in southwest Anatolia. Harold described this piece as “Greek”
and I think made reference to “the Dodecanes,” that is, to the Greek Islands closest to southwest Anatolia.
Michael Seidman’s handout was drawn in part from Walter Denny’s catalog prepared in conjunction with Denny’s TM exhibition “The Classical Tradition in Anatolian Carpets.”
In that exhibition Denny put up together in sequence four rugs that began on the left with a coupled-columned niche format piece, moved right to a fairly abstract Ushak, still with columns, but with “lozenge” shapes emerging. The sequence ended with two smaller pieces in which the niches and the columns have disappeared and in their place are vertically oriented lozenge shapes much like those in Held up rug E.
This may seem a bit of a stretch, but look back at Rug 2 above and notice that the “columns” with their pointed bottom ends begin to resemble incipient vertical lozenges.
If this analysis is correct, some designs with vertical lozenges may echo, in radical transformation, the earlier “columned niche” designs. This illustrates how weavers can manipulate the design vocabularies they inherit.
Michael and Harold provided one additional examples of a rug with vertically oriented lozenges.
Held up rug F
The piece above is described as 19th century from the western Bergama area. In it three vertical red ground lozenges float on a white ground that is attractively ornamented with crisp, spacious devices.
At this point Harold surprised me by recommending Jacobsen’s old chestnut on oriental rugs as a useful source on Turkish pieces. I would have said that Bohmer and Brueggemann, Peasant Rugs of Anatolia, 1983 would be best, if one could afford its current price of over $600, and that the J. Iten-Maritz volume, Turkish Carpets, 1975 is a good fallback. But I went and looked and, sure enough, Colonel Jacobsen has some modestly useful things to say about Turkish rugs.
One held up rug was actually treated later in this program, but I’ll slip it in here because it also has a niche design.
Held up rug Re-entrant design
Re-entrant design rugs are among those that appear in 15th century European paintings. This one is estimated to have been woven sometime during the 19th century in the Bergama area. The red used in the field is corrosive and produces an embossed effect. Red wefts were noted.
One last piece was held up, ending the “niche” design series.
Held up rug G
The held up piece above was said to have been woven in Kirsehir in central Anatolia. Its European flavor is said to have been the result of a trip to France by a Turkish sultan in the 1860s.
Harold said that the “handle” of this type rug is very distinctive and aids in its attribution. The red seems likely from cochineal.
Michael said that the next group they would treat would be rugs with “medallion” devices of various sorts.
The first medallion group rug was the large one below from western Anatolia.
This is a remarkable rug. One experienced collector suggested to me that it is the best of those presented, and in a note to me after this session Michael Seidman agreed. This is what he said: “Rug 5 was indeed the best of show. Great green and yellow. At least 1700, if not earlier. An example in the McMullan Met collection, later example in the Denny TM exhibition. Well drawn extended leaf elements in the green region flanking the main medallion. the same extended leaf found in the adjacent carpet- the Cannakeli large pattern Holbein.”
Rug 5 has a spectacular major border with a graphically powerful, quartered and hooked “diamond-shaped” device.
Harold also called attention to the outside minor border. He said this diagonal stripe and medallion border is characteristic of Bergama. He agreed with Michael’s indication that this piece might have been woven in the 17th century.
The second medallion rug was the large-pattern Holbein below.
This rug features two large medallions. Both of them are constructed with large, internally instrumented arms reaching out from a smaller central hub-medallion to give a radiating effect. These rugs are great crowd pleasers with their strong contrasting colors and great graphic punch. Again, the red is corrosive and bevels below the blue.
The major border is of the sort that can be, and sometimes is, halved to form something distinctive. We will talk more about this with a later example.
This one was attributed to Cannakale in Anatolia’s far northwest corner.
The next piece is the one I would have liked to take home, had Harold been weary of it.
This was a piece about which I regretted the understandable need to overlap these large rugs to get them on the board together. I wanted badly to see it all.
The wonderful color and the crisp drawing of the large Memling guls make it a joy. A narrow yellow-ground border, with a delicate design, frames without any interference at all. There is a red kilim ending with a stripe, a Turkmen usage carried to western Anatolia. It is estimated to the 18th century.
This rug had one additional interesting feature: a sharp change in weft color partway through. Sometimes this is done deliberately by weavers to have the structure color close to pile color so that there will be little color change as the pile wears and the structure begins to show through. In this case, the weft color change did not seem intended for that purpose. It seemed that the weaver just ran out of one color and had some of the other.
The rug on the far right at this level on the board was the one below, a small pattern Holbein design, woven in western Anatolia. This is a large, compartmentalized version.
Something to notice in the main border above Michael’s head in the image above is that this is a full-faced version from which the so-called “wine glass and leaf” border seen in lots of Turkish and Caucasian rugs was derived. We will see this border in another piece and say something further there about it.
Here is a closer look at a detail of Rug 8.
The next rug was held up.
Held up rug H
The rug above has the same basic field design as does Rug 8 above, but the instrumentation of the octagon centers is different.
It is younger, has heavy pile and colorful lappets. And it is a better example of the full-faced major border half of which becomes the “wine glass and leaf” border mentioned previously. Although it seems likely that this border and its elements are geometric rather than representational (Wendel Swan gave an ICOC presentation to demonstrate this point), the “wine glasses” in this version are shaped more like “martini” glasses.
Harold indicated that the narrower border on the top of this piece, and especially its much smaller top lappets, suggest that the weaver “ran out of warp.”
Rug 9 below is a “stripped down,” compartmented design woven in the Erzurum area of eastern Turkey.
A nicely graphic white-ground border frames its field effectively. Michael Seidman wrote later: “Rug 9 has a field filled with corner devices – the stepped, multi-colored squares – often seen in the corners of compartments.”
Rug 10 below is a classic “Transylvanian” rug in four pieces.
Harold described it as an “Ushak-type” with very open, spacious drawing and an attractive “cartouche” main border.
Rug 11 below is a very narrow and fragmented piece with a classic Lotto design.
Despite its narrow width, Harold said, it is complete, having been woven “for a ‘minbar,’ the narrow stairs and platform in a mosque on which an imam lectured.”
Michael Seidman added for me later: “The pattern is a rectilinear version of arabesque patterns seen in Timurid tiles. Also seen in very abstracted form in the first yastik.”
Here is a closer look.
Harold estimates it to the 17th century.
Rug 12 below is attributed to Melas in southwestern Anatolia.
The field of Rug 12 is marked by extended spiky leaf-forms. The effective main border is composed of countered halves of a larger-scale cruciform device.
The next move in this program was not to a different design, but to a different format: the yastik. Seven examples were held up.
The first yastik was attributed to Kirsehir.
It is predominantly red and green with lacy drawing.
The second yastik below is one Harold brought recently to Dennis Dodds’ yastik program.
It is a very attractive, spaciously drawn piece with a “flower and vine” meander border decorated (as are the delicately drawn end panels) with pinpoints of red, likely from cochineal.
My notes do not contain a specific attribution, but Morehouse, in his book on yastiks, includes very similar pieces (Plate 22-24) in his central Anatolian section, saying that they have Ladik and Mudjur features, but lack the warp depression of most Ladik yastiks.
In his invited comments to me after the session, Michael Seidman said: ” Yastik 2 is probably from Kirsehir, and with a border reminiscent of the “Ottoman ” border of the first series of carpets.”
Another Kirsehir example with large open areas decorated with floral devices. The red seems likely to be from cochineal.
The next yastik type shown was represented by two side-by-side examples.
Yastik 4 (two pieces)
Morehouse provides a very similar piece in his Plate 93 and attributes it to Kirsehir. He suggests a likely Armenian influence because of the presence of Armenians in Kirsehir and Zara. He also notes that this design also appears on both kilims and in pile carpets from Kirsehir.
Yastik 5 below exhibits what Morehouse calls a “baklava” design.
Harold pointed to a “Greek cross” device placed centrally on a small white-ground device in the field of this one.
Harold dug briefly at his collar and then asked his son to show his own “Greek cross” charm on a chain round his neck.
Yastik 6 was a “baklava” design of the sort that actually looks a bit like a tray of pastries, the source of this name.
Morehouse says this design is frequent in eastern Anatolian. Harold suggested Gazianteppe. Both suggest that it was likely woven by Kurds.
The last yastik was was this red ground example.
My notes do not include an attribution and nothing in Morehouse resembles it closely. If the red is cochineal one might suspect eastern Anatolia.
Michael Seidman had warned at the session’s beginning that eventually their organizational scheme of presenting pieces in terms of design would break down as variations became too great. That happened, momentarily, approximately with the next piece, one of the few flatweaves shown.
Kilim (only one)
This kilim has has good colors and great graphic punch. I know of other longer examples composed of three or four such compartments with this dividing horizontal border.
Although no specific attribution is given in my notes, the literature seems to suggest that this kilim was woven north of Konya in the Karapinar area.
We now moved back to pile pieces, but to some visibly related to flatweaves.
Michael said that the piece above and the one that follows below are examples that illustrate a point Marla Mallett makes, that pieces woven in less restrictive techiques (pile weaving is one such) often retain shapes in their designs that would be required if they had been woven in more restrictive flatweave techniques, for example, slit tapestry.
The frequent use of diagonals in the designs in this piece would be entirely unnecessary in pile weaving and are likely resonating effects of the source of such designs in flatweaves.
Harold had a second more geometricized example of this design.
Harold indicated that these pieces were woven in eastern Turkey. He said that pieces with this design are quite rare.
Michael Seidman added after to me: “The apricot color of number 13 is excellent. It is much finer and substantially older than [ed., Rug 14].”
This rug was another that was once likely part of the TM collection and Harold told the story of how it came to him.
The strong graphics in Rug 15 are very impactful and the white-ground border with small Memling guls frames and complements without competing. The colors are very good and the color use is very skillful. There is a lot of a good purple.
The field seems to me to be an example of a tessellated design (although there is outlining). A “tessellation” is a design element that can be fitted together to cover a given area without any gaps of overlaps.
In my notes this piece is indicated as estimated, by the presenters, to the third quarter of the 19th century. My own sense, from my memories of the Istanbul and Konya rug museums, is that this is a very old design. In his after session comments to me, Michael Seidman said: “Rug 15 is, I think, rather older than late 19th cent. The colors are too clear. There is one in Orient Stars dated to the 18th cent. I have seen that piece, Harold’s is not quite as old, but still quite respectable.”
Harold and Michael finished their program with a category that might be called “curiosities.”
The first of these was a pictorial rug.
Harold said that this is one of a series of pictorial rugs made once capturing the images of various figures of royalty. This one is of Edward VII, King of England, in the days when he was Prince of Wales.
This rug was woven in Sivas in 1902. Harold said that a member of his family bought a number of these rugs and gave him this one as a present. This piece has a lot of writing on it and very faded colors.
Before showing the last two rugs Michael Seidman said, smiling, that “we don’t usually talk about money” here at The Textile Museum, but that on this occasion they were going to make an exception. He then proceeded to unveil the two rugs below, which were pinned one above the other.
These are sizable wool pile rugs woven in the precise designs of Turkish bank notes of their time. Michael said that, although they make us smile, the top one is very fine and has a Hereke quality. The lower was, simply, tourist material.
Harold and Michael said that was the end of their program but that we’d look at the material folks had brought in.
I’ll deal with the pieces I brought in first, since I know I have permission to do that.
The first piece is a fragment of a yellow ground Anatolian village rug from Konya.
Brought in 1
This piece is from a group of Konya rugs, all with a yellow ground. Most have three or four horizontal rows of Memling guls. This one has good color, including a purple, an “old” border and good wool. It could be either 18th or 19th century.
The large Anatolian village rug fragment below has a soft red ground, a vivid blue used in a huge double-niched and instrumented, rectangular central medallion.
Brought in 2
the drawing is awkward, even sometimes crude, but the effect is powerful.
Early indications were that this rug was made in the Konya area, but Dennis Dodds suggests it’s from further west. It may be early 19th century, but some experienced folks think it is earlier. It is very coarse with only 25 kpsi. When I was working, it dominated one wall of my office and I got to look at it every day.
The piece below is a niche design attributed to Ladik despite lacking the usual downward-pointing flowers.
Brought in 3
For me there is something archaic about the spare treatment of the drawing in its field. Its “stripes and medallions” main border frames nicely with the aid of two different white-ground minor borders. The pile in this rug points down, indicating that it was not woven upside down. This results in two right-side up ewers in its spandrels. 19th century.
The simple rug below is off-topic in the sense that it is a 20th century piece.
Brought in 4
The reason for bringing it is that it was woven in the Siirt area of eastern Anatolia using one of the oldest structures known. This piece is flatwoven using a soft goat hair. After weaving (as a flatwoven piece) the wefts on one side of it are teased out using strong hooks to form a “faux pile” (there are no knots). This structure preceded pile weaving and those interested in very early rugs are often interested in these for that reason.
They always have undyed natural colors and the “pile” is very soft. The designs are more complex than their simple stripes initially suggest. Here the striping is arranged to form a niche at one end, but if you look closely, you will see that the faux pile has been pulled in different directions in particular areas. These areas of directional “colic” form a subtle lattice effect under the niche in this piece. So there are actually two “levels” of design in this simple rug.
Bob Emry had brought a large, intriguing Anatolian rug.
Brought in 5
Although quite worn, it shows itself surprisingly well in these photographs. It has several interesting features. First, it has triangular devices that seem to function in niche-like ways.
Sometimes these triangular forms are placed at the edge of the field, but in other cases they are placed at the top of, and are seemingly integrated with, squarish devices.
This rug also has a larger-scale meander border that resembles some Turkmen “boat” borders, including visible “boat” devices.
This rug originally had very good color and quite a bit of it remains. The consensus was that this rug was woven in eastern Anatolia. Harold said that his only hesitation is that rugs from eastern Turkey are almost never this large.
Wendel Swan had brought in two pieces. The first was the large, handsome Bergama rug immediately below which he believes dates from around 1800. The field is based upon architectural motifs rather than a “garden design” as is often stated in some of the earlier rug literature.
Brought in rug 6
This is a classic piece with a deeply saturated red and a border that is of the type often halved in later usages.
Here is a closer look at the field of this nice old piece, showing a considerable range of color.
Wendel’s second example was the striking Karapinar fragment below:
Brought in rug 7
This piece has impactful graphics in its design and good colors, the most interesting of which is an old purple. In fact, the wefts of this piece are dark purple
a feature a number of experienced folks say they have not previously encountered.
In an email after this program Wendel reported that “I’ve found some other information to possibly indicate that the fragment may be older (maybe even quite older) than the 1800 – 1850 I estimated during the program.”
Someone brought in a piece (that I can’t show you) that had pile with noticable patina. Harold took out his handkerchief to fashion a symmetric knot –
– and explained that when a rug is newer the pile sticks up above the knot node on the rug’s front. But as the pile wears down the knot node is exposed to wear. Patina is not the result of wear on the brushy ends of the pile, but rather that of abrasion on the exposed knot nodes (on which the wool strands lay on their sides). Abrasion on the sides of the knot node strands produces rug patina, “like when your pants get shiny on the seat,” Harold said.
The program ended and the conversations and examination of the pieces “hands on” began.
My thanks to Harold and to Michael for permitting me to share their session with you, as well as for their considerable editorial assistance with this posting.
Harold has said to me, recently, that the extent and excellence of Michael Seidman’s preparation for this session is not adequately recognized in what we have said above and this comment is an effort to correct that.
R. John Howe
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