Early Turkish Carpets

The history of oriental carpet-making is intertwined with the lives of people, Turkic people who have migrated through the centuries from Central Asia westwards. So intrinsic an artistic expression of their understanding and way of life found itself a stabilizing but at the same time a creative force as they encountered new situations and foreign influences. This dynamic is the essence of this history and continues to operate. The history thus becomes a flow of development, the development of people in the creation of works of art which speaks of their everyday encounter with realities.

This topic begins a look at early carpet fragments – those prior to the first Turkic migrations. Then the study proceeds to follow the developments as these people moved west, first into Muslim lands and then into the Muslim world. Here we see the encounter with the Abbasids (Samarra) and then the developments which climaxed in the art of the Anatolian Seljuk period which covered the 13th to the 14th century. Finally we will examine how this process manifested itself during the Emirate Period and Ottoman times and up to the present day. The influence has not been localized, for the worlds of the East and the West have been involved. Paintings and miniatures abound with depictions of carpets produced during the centuries in this history.  

Scholarly Study Begins

When compared with the carpets themselves the systematic study of them is a newcomer on the historical scene. Attention was first given only in 1891 and then with the publication of the so-called Vienna Book, a most elaborate edition authored by A. Riegl. (3) It was in three folio volumes and contained reproductions, some in colour, of one hundred of the most important carpets in the Vienna exhibition. In these volumes some of the pieces were given a rather fanciful metaphysical meaning. An additional volume in this series followed in 1907.

Prior to this, in 1882, Wilhelm von Bode had published an article on carpets but it was not until 1901 that it appeared in book form. Later it was revised and republished by Ernst Kühnel in 1914. Also during the early 1900s, F.R. Martin in 1908 produced a monumental work on the art of carpets. (4) This was followed by a large publication on the Munich Exhibition. The grand style and nature of Martin’s book made a great impact on scholars involved in this art and stimulated interest which resulted in an ever increasing flow of serious works.

With the emergence of these numerous articles in magazines and periodicals, it was obvious that the scholarly consideration of carpets was gaining scientific respectability, particularly in Germany. A few noteworthy examples attest to this: the publication of Kendrick-Tattersall in 1922-24, the complete revision of Bode’s work by Kühnel in 1922 and in 1955, and the work of Kurt Erdmann including his life-long study as well as his numerous articles and shorter books. These works became the foundation stones for the academic approach to carpets.

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