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The art of Turkish carpet weaving

The art of Turkish carpet weaving

Carpets discovered in excavations of tombs at Pazarik have proved that the ancient Turks wove carpets using the complex Gordes knot technique as early as the Hun period.

However, researchers then encounter an unxexplained gap until the fragments of 3 rd and 6th century carpets made usimg a simple single weft knot discovered at the turn of this century at Lou-Lan west of Lake Lop in Eastern Turkistan.

Possibly the sophisticated technique of the Pazarik carpet had been forgotten over the intervening centuries, and the process of evolution began all over again with the discovery of a simple knot.

When we come to Islamic times, we find among the Abbasid carpet fragments with geometric designs some found at Fostat (old Cairo) whose knotting technique resembles that of Eastern Turkistan.

A wool carpet fragment bearing a palmette motif on a red ground and worked in Gordes knots (named after the Turkish carpet weaving centre of Gordes, and alternatively known as the Turkish knot), found at Fostat and now in Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art marks the beginning of knotted carpet making in the mediaeval Islamic world. It is thought that this carpet must have been exported from Western Turkistan between the 7th and 9th centuries. Another fragment in the Berlin Museum of Islamic Art may have been imported from Western Turkistan, perhaps Bukhara, to Egypt. Since there are no other contemporary fragments from that region for comparison, we cannot say more.

The other carpet fragments discovered in Egypt are made in thesingle warp knot technique of Eastern Turkistan, and the dominant ground colour is dark blue. These fragments are now in the Benaki Museum in Athens.

Anatolian Turkish carpets dating from the 13th century found in Konya are woven in the Gordes knot technique. These carpets are the earliest for which dating involve no speculation. The discovery of eight Turkish Seljuk carpets by F.R. Martin in Alaeddin Mosque in Konya in 1905, was followed by three more Seljuk carpets found by R.M. Riefstahl in 1930, and seven small carpet fragments found in Fostat in 1935-1936.

The art of carpet weaving was introduced to the Islamic world by Turkish tribes migrating from Central Asia, and the single-warp knot spread as far as Spain. Carpets from Turkey were highly valued in Europe, where they became a popular accessory in paintings.

The introduction of animal figures into 14the century Turkish carpets parallels the vigorous use of animal designs in many other branches of Seljuk art. These carpets were already being exported to Europe, as pictures of Seljuk period Turkish carpets in European paintings of this period indicate. Original examples of the carpets bearing animal figures were not discovered until centuries later, in Konya, Istanbul and Fosfat.

Following the three Seljuk carpets which. R.M. Riefstabl found in Beysehir, he also found a fourth large 15th century carpet which was the prototype of the so-called Holbein carpets, representing another phase in the development of Turkish carpets.

The carpets represented another phase in the development of Turkish carpets.

These carpets were depicted in paintings by Italian and later Flemish and Dutch artists between the mid-15th and 16th centuries, but became known as Holbein carpets because they appeared most frequently and in greatest detail in paintings by this artist. They feature borders with an interlaced design inspired by the kufic Arabic script, and a field of geometric designs enhanced by highly stylised floriate motifs. They mark the beginning of a new Ottoman Turkish style of carpet design. The 16th century saw the rise of a new and brilliant period in Turkish carpet weaving, corresponding to the classical period in Ottoman architecture and other art. Carpets made in the Usak region mark the commencement of this trend, with an extraordinary diversity of motif and composition which still await detailed study. Usak carpets can be divided into two main types: those with medallions and those with a design of stars.

But variations on these two themes employ and immense repertoire of motifs. The medallion carpets were often conceived as an infinite repetitive pattern by placing halved medallions in the four corners around the central medallion.

The medallion itself is a motif inspired by book binding and illumination of the type practised by the carpet weavers of Tabriz, but now combined with the idea of infinite repetition typical of Turkish carpets.

Instead of retaining the principles of composition applicable to the arts of the book, Turkish designers were guided entirely by the rules and characteristics of the textile medium in which the weavers worked.

Star Usak carpets display the principle of infinite repetition even more prominently, this effect being achieved by arranging small medallions in the form of eight-pointed stars and diamonds in offset rows.

This type is smaller in size than the medallion carpet. Production of Star Usaks continued for only two centuries, disappearing by the end of the 17th century, while the medallion Usak carpets continued to be woven until the mid-18th century.

In the late 16th century, an entirely different type of Turkish carpet, new both in technique and its predominantly naturalistic motifs, emerged alongside the classic Turkish carpet. Known as the Ottoman court carpet, it employed the Persian rather that Turkish knot. The Persian knot, also called the asymmetrical knot, allows a finer, velvet-like texture to be created. Naturalistic motifs appear simultaneously in all other Turkish arts at this time, with a profusion of tulips, hyacints, roses, blossoms, and curved leaves. This style continued to evolve until the end of the 18th century.

Ottoman court prayer rugs were made in the Gordes, Kula, Ladik and Usak tradition during the 18th century. A magnificent prayer rug known to have belonged to Ahmet I (1603-1617) in Topkapi Place Museums is still clearly worthy of a sultan, despite the burns caused by a brazier being placed on top of it.

Another court prayer rug in Berlin Museum has a chronogram in the border with the date 1019 (1610).

The oldest known prayer rugs to have survived date from the 15th century, and constitute a distinct category of Turkish carpets.

Three of these in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in Istanbul feature completely different compositions, which indicates that this was a period when innovation and creativity were given free rein.

Other 15th century prayer rugs can be seen in Renaissance period paintings by the Bellinis, Carpaccio and Lotto.

Giovanni Bellini’s portrait of Duke Loredan of Venice dated 1507 in the Munich Gallery shows a prayer rug identical to one in the Berlin Museum of Islamic Art. Another early example can be seen in a painting by Gentile Bellini hanging in the National Gallery in London.

The serrated lappet on the Bellini prayer rugs is replaced by a large palmette on the lower edge of a magnificent early 16th century Usak carpet in Berlin Museum. Another Usak carpet dated 1600 in the Bode collection is among the first examples of the double mihrap niche rugs with a central medallion and an unusually broad border.

Unfortunately, very few prayer rugs dating from the 15th and 16th centuries have survived, but the number and variety rises sharply for the 17th century, when we find Gordes prayer rugs with curved niches closely resembling court style rugs.

Kula prayer rugs are distinguished by plainer niches and up to ten narrow borders. There is also a type known as the landscape Kula, with designs of cottages and trees.

Ladik prayer rugs are noted for their soft wool and glowing colours, and are characterised by rows of long stemmed tulips below or above the prayer niche. Those of Kirsehir and Mucur have niches with double or triple outlines and their colour schemes include two or three tones of red. With their vivid and brilliant colours, Milas prayer rugs preserve the forms of Gordes prayer rugs with the additional influences of Usak and Bergama rugs.Turkish carpet weaving continued to develop through to the end of the nineteenth century, and still survives today in Konya, Kayseri, Sivas, Kirsehir, Isparta, Fethiye, Dosemalti, Balikesir, Yagcibedir, Usak, Bergama, Kula, Gordes, Millas, Canakkale, Ezine, Kars and Erzurum. Enormous efforts being made to prevent the art of carpet weaving from falling into decline are meeting with considerable success in many areas of Turkey today.


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