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Editor’s Choice: East Anatolian Rug

East Anatolian rug (detail), Şarkişla/Sivas region, ca. 1800

East Anatolian rug (detail), Şarkişla/Sivas region, ca. 1800

For more than forty years HALI has found and published some of the most important and beautiful rugs and textiles in the world. The many different paths we have followed to find interesting pieces—auctions, collector meetings and conferences, dealers’ exhibitions and adverts—have been a constant source of wonder and excitement in our pages. Illustrating gems we have discovered and wanted to share has tended to be confined to an appropriate context. Here we are attempting something different. The comments in this series tell of the how and where we have seen pieces, whether in California, Milan, Tokyo or elsewhere, and reflect either the voice of a trusted expert, or our experienced response or reaction to a piece, or indeed our reflections on something that has never been shown before.

The more that I see, the less I know. This came into sharp focus on a visit to Brian Morehouse in Los Angeles, where I always know that I will see rugs that are little known or under researched—in particular the rugs of central and east Anatolia, for which I hope his research will soon crystallise into a book. This is an area of collecting that remains wide open: the material and design quality of the older rugs from the region highlight the strength of its tradition but the lack of information and collecting precedent has perhaps deterred collectors from focusing on these rugs.

The present rug was hanging on the wall and demanded classification: the narrow horizontal borders in the field reflect bands of decoration on the region’s ak-chuval storage sacks, studied in depth by Josephine Powell, but the character of the field decoration and colours were unexpected. For me one of the pleasures of such a rug is the detective work required to place its origin and draw out its influences.

During the discussion that followed, which illustrates part of the process of collecting, Brian Morehouse mused: ‘Unique rugs such as this one are often difficult to attribute, therefore one must assemble clues gleaned from designs and motifs that have been retained in both this example and its antecedents. When combined with shared weaving techniques, a picture emerges that may have some validity.’

‘So just where does one turn for related features in this example? By deconstructing various aspects of this rug, one is left with a few distinctive features that are found among earlier rugs designated as Şarkişla or more broadly attributed to the greater Sivas region. Two rugs thus designated in Christopher Alexander’s The Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art: The Color and Geometry of Very Early Turkish Carpets (1993, pp.139, 155) have comparable internal stepped medallions with multi-armed geometric floral forms enclosed within an outer diamond, and both use the offset knotting commonly found in this region of eastern Anatolia. An 18th-century divan cover from the region is the only other example that has come to light that shares some of these distinctive features. One of the aforementioned examples also has radiating arms ending in what appears to be a floral form with small petals, whereas this example exhibits geometric features not dissimilar to talismanic motifs often found in Tumar-style Turkmen jewellery worn to protect against demons and the evil eye. If the Alexander rugs are earlier workshop or cottage industry production, then the augmentation of features in this example is an interesting reflection of the culture, time and place that reinterpreted them.’

East Anatolian rug, Şarkişla/Sivas region, ca. 1800

East Anatolian rug, Şarkişla/Sivas region, ca. 1800

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