Samy Rabinovic: Color as a Tool to Identify Anatolian Carpets

On January 17, 2009, Tom Goehner, the recently appointed Textile Museum Curator of Education, introduced


Samy Rabinovic, of Philadelphia,


as the speaker in a Textile Museum, Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program on the subject “Color as a Tool to Identify Anatolian Carpets.”

Samy began by referencing Jon Thompson’s typology of the various types of oriental carpets, first published in his “Carpet Magic,” volume in 1983.

Samy said that, traditionally, rugs were classifed  primarily in terms of where they were made.   Kashan, Bokhara, Konya, Tabriz, Heriz, etc.

He said that Thompson proposed four groups of carpet groups based on the various contexts in which they were woven.


The four groups are:

Tribal, made primarily for the weavers’ own use and often woven by nomads.  In this category are such tribal groups as Lurs, Bakhtiaris, Afshars (Iranian), Kurds, Amenians, Lezghi’s (from the Caucasus), Yuruks; Anatolian Turkic tribes, plus  Kurds and Armenians; Central Asian tribes, including Turkmen, Uzbeks, Kirghiz, Karakalpaks, etc.

Cottage or Village, often with slightly more complicated designs, including more refined borders, to be sold in local  markets.  Here geographic designations still apply and include such locations as Heriz, Bijar, Hamadan in Iran and others, such as Bergama, Konya and Ladik in Anatolia.

City, commercial weavings.  Here the weaver is told what to weave.  Kashan, Isfahan, Qum and Nain, in Iran; and  Usak, Hereke, Panderma and Kumkapi, in Anatolia, are often cited as instances of this group.

Court Carpets, made in such places as India (Mughal), Turkey (Ottoman) and Iran (Safavid) courts.

Samy said that the carpets we would be treating in this session would mostly be those that would fit in Thompson’s cottage or village category, although some might be attributable to the tribal or nomadic group.

Samy is trained as a chemist and said that he began to look at color in rugs and textiles in 1984, influenced by that background, as well as by his acquaintance with Harald Bohmer, of DOBAG fame.  Samy said this perspective on color changed the way he looked at rugs, especially those from Anatolia.

He said that he came to see that colors were used, broadly speaking, in different ways in different parts of Turkey and that such color usages could be an important indicator of where a given piece was likely woven.

Still in his preliminaries in this presentation, he resorted to a color wheel presented in black and white, but with a key for distinguishing categories of colors (see Ref.1):


Here is a somewhat similar color wheel in color from the internet.

To summarize from the labeling in Samy’s “black-white” color graphic above:

Primary colors: red, blue, yellow

Secondary colors: green, violet, orange

Tertiary colors: red-brown, blue-green, yellow-brown

He said that the notion that there are noticeable patterns in the use of color by weavers of particular types or in particular areas is not a new idea.

Persian weavers in Nain often seem to favor  soft yellows and saphire blue.


Caucasian weavers use mainly primary colors.


The Baluch are famous for using mostly darker, analogous colors with white highlights.


And, of course, Turkmen weaving is a near synonym for “red rug.”


He said he thought that color usage also varied, rather systematically, by geography in Anatolia, and that he would attempt to illustrate and apply the color usage tendencies that he thought were visible and that could be used as an aid to attribution of Anatolian weavings.

He said that various proposals have been made about useful ways of dividing Anatolia for purposes of rug and textile analysis.

In a handout he provided this black and white map (Ref: Dr. Bohmer’s book, Rugs of Anatolia).


Here is a colored map that may be a little easier to make out here.


Samy  said that for the purpose of his color usage thesis he would define three broad areas.

As early as 1900 Mumford (and again in 1911, Lewis) classified Turkish carpets as Izmir (Western Anatolia) and Konya (Central Anatolia) carpets.

Today  we define Western Anatolian Carpet (See Ref 1: Rugs of Anatolia, by W. Bruggemann and H. Bohmer), the whole western part of Anatolia, starting with Canakkale, all the way south to Fethiye (famous for “Megri” carpets).

However, with a closer look  at the color distribution or color palette used in Western Anatolian carpets, it is easy to distinguish two areas.

The first, north of Izmir, starting with Bergama, all the way to Canakkale, with Ezine, Yuncu, and Balikesir in between. In this northern area, the primary colors are red and blue with minor amounts of yellow.

The second western area is south of Izmir.  Here we notice not only reds and blues, but also yellow, sometimes two shades of yellow, as is the case with Megri carpets; purple as in Cal (near Aydin), Milas and Ushak carpets.

There may be tribal influences visible in these color differences between these northern and southern areas of western Anatolia.

(An important comment, in this context, was made by Harold Keshishian from the audience.  Harold said that a collector friend of his referred to “Ada Milas” carpets of the 18th and 19th centuries as woven by Greeks.)  Even if carpets from this area were not woven by Greeks, the differences in color palette between the north and south western Anatolia do suggest different influences.

Central Anatolian rugs, the second area Samy designated, has been defined, he said, differently by different people.

He adopted a triangular area (it’s actually drawn on the black and white map above, the area defined by Bohmer et al,but may be hard to see). Defined on the west by an approximately vertical line from Eskisehir in the north to Mut, near the Mediterranian in the south.  Its northern boundary is an west-east line from Eskisehir through Ankara to Sivas.  An eastern boundary of this central Anatolian area is defined by a line from Sivas in the north to Mut in the south.  Konya is often thought as the “center” of central Anatolia, but it is actually on the western side of this triangle and of the actual center of Anatolia itself.

Other geographic locations in this Central Anatolia region are Karapinar, Mucur, Aksaray, Ladik, Gelveri, Incesu and Yahyali.

In Central Anatolia, all the primary colors are used, again with lots of yellow.  The secondary colors green and purple are also used.   Yellow grounds and yellow-purple combinations are frequent.  Borders in rugs of this area aresometimes multi-colored.

A very large, and admittedly disparate, Eastern Anotalian area is more difficult to define by predominant color usages.

Although marked by diversity,  Eastern Anatolian colors usages seem generally darker. 2-3 reds, browns and blues are noted, often as transition colors. Samy said that little yellow seems to be used in Eastern Anatolia (although there are exceptions).  And white is  often used to create compartment separations.

Geographic locations in Eastern Anatolia include Malatya, Gaziantep, Kagizman and Savak, just to name a few.

Samy turned, now, to apply this color usage typology to the pieces he had brought.

He started with this niche design from north-northwest Anatolia.


The use of blue (saturated indigo) and red is typical for theYagcibedir (near Balikesir) carpets of the upper area of western Anatolia.  Also, the use of white to outline the border of the mihrab, and the secondary use of orange on the outside borders ,is typical of Yagcibedir and Yuncu carpets.

His second piece is this Megri from southwest Anatolia, the Fethyie area.


Compared to the first example of western Anatolia (the Yagcibedir example above, or to Bergama or Ezine carpets) note the use of yellow and blue as the primary colors, together with some red and green. The Milas, Ada Milas , Megri carpets are typical examples.

It is interesting to question whether or not there are visible tribal influences in the color usages of the northern and southern regions of western Anatolia.


The rug below is the third piece Samy brought.  It was attributed to “Ada Milas” (the literal translation is “island Milas).


Samy’s next piece was attributed to Central Anatolia.


The next piece was a divan cover (note borders on three sides but fourth side is finished; it is not fragmented).


There is very little yellow in this piece.  Red and blues are varied.  The reds are from both madder and cochineal (cochineal is used in western Anatolia but very frequently in the East).  There is a darker and a lighter blue.  This divan cover is seen to have been woven in Eastern Anatolia and is definitely reminiscent of the Small Pattern Holbein carpets .

The next piece is a fragment of the group of rug described as “yellow-ground Konya village” rugs.


This piece does exhibit red, yellow and blue, the primary colors  and the ground is yellow.  But it also has the secondary colors orange, green and purple.  The white ground borders are “multi-colored with the colors of the field devices.

A very nice prayer carpet was submitted from the audience (see Dr. Boehmer’s Rugs of Anatolia Plate 40/pages 188/189


Central Anatolia.

The next rug Samy treated was this yastik.


Its owner said that he bought in part because of the unusually large amount of purple used in it.  He also said that Harald Bohmer, with it in his hands, estimated that all of the dyes in it, including the strong orange, are natural.  This piece is attributed to the Karapinar area of  Central Anatolia or further to the east.

The next piece was the Malatya kilim bag below.


The blue-ish charactor of its red suggests cochineal.  Cochineal red occurs in western Anatolian weavings but is much more frequent in those from eastern Anatolia.

The  next piece shown was this Kurdish Anatolia rug with a baklava design. Note the absence of yellow.  White is used effectively in the small borders that form the compartmented aspect of the design.  White dots brighten the coloration generally.


The next piece was thought likely to be western Anatolia, more precisely to the north of Izmir rather than the south, most likely a Bergama type.

Note to Samy: This piece has prominent yellow and greens and seems to have colors more like what we said rug woven below Izmir in the west have.  Why do we see it as a Bergama rug?

Note to John: Please consider that the yellow in South Western Anatolia (more or less a strong yellow that we see in Central Anatolia carpets), whereas in Northern Western Anatolia, the yellow is more a mixture of orange and yellow, as in the example shown…. Contrast the yellows in the Megri or Ada Milas… Also design wise the first and third border are often seen in Bergama type rugs…


The following piece was a classic Bergama rug estimated to have been woven about 1800.


The next rug was this one attributed to Karapinar.


An additional piece was this yatak woven by non-Kurdish nomads in the Konya area.


The next piece treated was likely from the Ladik area.


A next rug was this one.

Note to Samy:  We need an attribution on the rug below.


The next piece shown was this one probably from Kirsehir.


The next piece was attributed to Kirshehir.


The next piece shown was this small Western Anatolia, north of Izmir.


The following rug was this  Karapinar yastik.


The next piece shown was this Malatya kilim bag.


The next rug was this Central Anatolian yastik, woven  in Taskale, near Karaman, using synthetic dyes, around the 1920-1930’s.


The next weaving shown was this Central Anatolian yastik.


The next to the last piece shown was a HEYBE or donkey bag brom Western Anatolia (the one Samy is holding here).  It is a Yuncu.



This is a complete “heybe,” a Western  Anatolian saddlebag set.  Samy holds one face.  A long section of the striped back is showing.  The other face is on the opposite side of the striped area at the end furthest from the one in Samy’s hands.  The second of  the two images above shows that, as is typical, there is a connecting panel, longer than you would see on most Persian saddle bags,  and that it has a slit down its middle.

The last rug shown in Samy’s session was interesting because it shows Western characteristics, but it could be  a Bergama or maybe a Manastir type woven in Western Anatolia.


In summary, Samy said, his picture about discernible regional differences in color usage in Anatolian carpets is that:

In western Anatolian carpets , the dominant colors are red and blue for the upper part Bergama, Canakkale, Balikesir, Yuncu, Yagcibedir  and Ezine.  South of Bergama to Fethiye, we see all three primary colors red, blue and yellow.

In Central Anatolia, all of the primary colors are used as well as secondary ones like green and purple. The yellow ground Konya carpets (mostly from the Cappadocia area), and those from Karapinar, Karaman, Mucur, Aksaray, Ladik, Gelveri, Incesu, and Yahyali are good examples.

In Eastern Anatolia one needs to talk about the absence of rules and of a resulting diversity.  Carpets from this region are generally the darkest.  The use of  close “transitional” colors such as 2-3 reds or 2-3 blues, is common.  Yellow is generally absent, although there are exceptions, especially when camel hair is substituted with yellow dyed wool.  Rug producing areas include Malatya, Gaziantep, Kagizman, Shavak…

It is an interesting, imaginative attempt to use color as an aid to identifying the regions within which Anatolian carpets were likely woven. After all, the same raw materials (local plants) were available to weavers of the three different regions. Dyer’s weld, onion skin and 30 plus plants yielding the color yellow is known throughout Anatolia, yet North Western Anatolia (Bergama, Canakkale, Yagcibedir) and especially Eastern Anatolia, specially Kurdish rugs use very little yellow whereas Central Anatolia and South Western Anatolia seem to like the color yellow. One should ask the question why?

The session ended and folks came forward for the material and to ask Samy additional questions.


My thanks to Samy for his permission and assistance in producing this virtual version of his interesting RTAM program.

Thanks also to Wendel Swan, who provided a number of the pieces shown, and also helped in shaping the text of this post.

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual RTAM program.

R. John Howe

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