Anatomy of an Object: Ushak Coupled-column Prayer Rug
Contributing editor Alberto Boralevi reflects on a rare yellow-ground early ‘Transylvanian’ west Anatolian Ottoman niche rug with six architectural columns supporting curved leaf and rosette spandrels.
Formerly with the Milanese dealer Davide Halevim, and then with Eberhart Herrmann, this very beautiful niche rug with an ochre yellow ground is an exceptional example of the earliest group of so-called ‘Transylvanian’ coupled-column rugs. With its high knot density, high-quality wool and rich colours, it is clearly a product of the accomplished commercial carpet industry that flourished in Ottoman Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, supplying substantial quantities of rugs for export throughout Europe but especially to the churches of the Protestant Saxon communities in Transylvania (modern Romania). The border in particular, with its rounded cartouches containing classical Ottoman tulips, is typical of the ‘Transylvanian’ genre. The ochre yellow background of the tripartite mihrab, instead of the more common red, is very rare. In an exceptionally good state of preservation for its age, the rug still has several centimetres of kilim preserved at both ends and most of the original selvedges. The pile is uniform with only minimal, skillfully executed restoration.
To our knowledge there is only one other yellow-ground coupled-column rug, a fragmentary example missing both horizontal borders in the Bardini Museum, Florence (inv. 808, Boralevi, Oriental Geometries, 1999, pl.25) that features the same design elements, including the distinctive panel above the niche with trefoils and long-stemmed tulips, and the rounded cartouche border. On that rug, however, the sickle leaf and snowflake rosette spandrels are on a blue ground rather than red, as here. Another very similar rug by design, but with a red field and in very poor condition, is preserved in the Black Church in Braşov (inv. 232, Ionescu, Antique Ottoman Rugs in Transylvania, 2005, cat.198). Other known yellow-ground examples with similar ornaments, but slightly different border and field designs and lacking the tulip panel above the niche, include rugs in both the Museum of Applied Arts (Pasztor, Ottoman Turkish Carpets in the Collection of the Budapest Museum of Applied Arts, 2007, no.40) and the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest.