Monday, September 28, 2015

The Yin and Yang or Taiji in Rugs of the East

Please look at the center for the Taiji or Yin and Yang design.

The Yin and Yang or Taiji (Tae-Kieh as it is called in some old sources) is a Taoist symbol of the dichotomy of duality in nature. Light and dark, male and female and so on are represented in the Yen and Yang. Notice in the common representation there is a circle of the other in each side.

The Art Institute of Chicago divides them as such:
The Five Phases
greater yang: wood and spring (east)
lesser yang: fire and summer (south)
greater yin: metal and autumn (west)
lesser yin: water and winter (north)
the central phase: earth and the solstices

The Handle of a Rug

Uncle Jimmy Keshishian told me, "It's easy to be a rug expert, all you have to do is feel 10,000 of each kind." We may never get near 10,000 of each kind but we need to feel rugs and assess the handle. Here I compare two high end rugs from the back just by feel. You need to try this, take a few rugs that are known to you and feel it and see if you can describe what you are feeling.
Common words used to describe the handle might be "Board Like", when it is very stiff . "Meaty" is also thick and firm but not as firm as "Board Like". Rugs as soft as an Oushak rug are often called "Buttery Smooth". Visit a rug store and look around and feel the rugs and see what you feel.  It only takes a few before we start to identify Firm vs Soft. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Antique Malayer Rug

Malayer Rugs are made in the area south of Hamadan and if my memory serves me  south by south east. This area is from the south of Hamadan into North Luristan Province. There is a wide variety of different rug patterns. The rugs are single wefted and are generally finer than most Hamadan rugs. Generally they have substantial construction of very good wool.

Flag Colors and Corrosive Dyes

Old Glory over Baltimore Harbor
Certain colors are new colors and some are old. What I mean by that is there is a wide range of colors and tones that are cheap and easy with synthetic dyes but more difficult and costly with natural or vegetal dyes. Think of flags, before WWI almost all flags were Red, White, and Blue. Why? Because these were the colorfast light stable colors.

As we can see in this 48 star American flag from WWI above;

And this Union Jack from British Empire. They, as do most old flags, rely on Red, White, and Blue.  White because they could use natural white of bleached white wool. The usual blue is Indigo a very stable dye that we know from Blue Jeans. The red is typically from Madder mordanted with Alum. However insect red is possible in flags as well but less common.
The key is that we had a limited pallet of stabile colors for flags and rugs. When we see orange, green, black and others we know it is more likely after 1920. Here we have a great example of new flags. These would not have been practical in 1915:

Post 1920 Synthetic Dyes

Here we have the program from the 'Football Association of the Irish Free State' defeating the Nazi German team at Dalymount Park in Dublin on October 17, 1936. The Irish Free State gained limited autonomy from the cruel heel of British oppression in 1922 when they adopted this flag. The Swastika flag was used from 1933 to 1945.

The Reyn Staffel Sauj Bulagh Rug Azarbayjan-e-Gharbi Province

Corrosive Dyes

We can see in the magnificent piece from Reyn Staffel above is corrosive dyes. The brown and black wears away leaving a sculpted look.

Black and Brown were possible earlier but they were considered the most difficult colors to achieve with natural dyes. It was also prone to fading.  Black was achieved by adding iron salts to the dye bath. The problem is that it becomes brittle and the wool wears away more quickly. When this happens we call it a Corrosive dye. Typically in Antique Rugs Surmey Blue is used in place of Black. Surmey is over dyed indigo repeating the vat dying process until it appears almost black.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Raj, KPSI and Tabriz Rugs

Tabriz rugs are measured in Raj which is a different way of measuring knots than any other type of rug. I suppose you could measure any rug in Raj, But they don’t.  Raj is the number of warps in 7 millimeters or 2 and ¾ inches. This is thye same length as a standard cigarette.
20 – 35 Raj
20 to 35 Raj is the lowend. They do not tend to be very good rugs but people buy them because of the price.
40 – 60 Raj
From 40 Raj to 60 Raj these are the rugs for people who want good rugs to walk upon.  One point to consider is that finer and thinner rugs trend to bunch up and wrinkle.
Over 70
These rugs are not just floor coverings they should be judged as works of art.

20 53
25 81
30 119
35 161
40 212
45 268
50 330
60 475
70 645
80 843
85 951
90 1066
95 1188
100 1317
105 1452
110 1694

ID points

New Tabriz Rugs have a common pallet. Lots of pinks, taupe’s, beiges, etc… Better ones typically have end skirts that are flat white with some raised pile designs. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Pre-Mughal Indian Rugs Shiraz Influence

There were rugs in India in the Pre-Mughal period. Pile rugs spread down the sea routes from Shiraz. Note the mitered corners. Jon Thompson argues rather compellingly in  Late Mamluk Carpets in The Arts of the Mamluks in Egypt and Syria: Evolution and Impact edited by Doris Behrens-Abouseif that these corners in this time period point to a Persian origin. While I don't accept all of Thompson's arguments I think on this he has a point. I feel this rug is either from Shiraz or the weavers were inspired by rugs from Shiraz.

‘Ashtapada’ silk carpet

Loosely spun floss silk
Cotton foundation and fringe
Two cord selvedge inner cord secured by wefts and outer cord attached by magenta silk. 

Warp: Cotton off white, Z10S51/dm, no depression.

Weft: Cotton, beige, originally orange, z singles 8 yarns used together, 2 sheds/weft break 28/dm

The ‘Ashtapada’ silk carpet, Deccan (?), India, first half 15th century. 1.63 x 3.71m Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar

Ashtapada is an 8 by 8 board on which an Indian predecessor of chess is played. 

Decan is the anglcised version of Dakkhin which is the central plateau that dominates 8 states and most of Southern India. Did you ever notice the bizarre British compulsion to rename people and places that already have perfectly good names. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Question of Para-Mamluk Rugs

Para-Mamluk Rug Textile Museum Collection

Mamluk rugs are a small distinctive structurally cohesive group of rug. I show some in my Guide to Mamluk Art. The key to attribution is a combination of distinctive style, limited palette and the S spin of the fibers.

 A strand may either be spun to the left or to the right. If they are spun to the left, it is termed "Z" spun and if spun to the right, it is termed "S" spun. More than 99% of all hand woven Oriental rugs in the world are Z spun but Mamluk Rugs are S Spun. 

The whole question of Mamluk rugs is made even more challenging by a tiny group of rugs that appear to be Mamluk except that they are Zspun. Charles Grant "Charlie" Ellis delineated a group of seemingly Mamluk rugs that were Z spun. Charlie was a Research Associate at the TM and the above rug was one of the rugs that they examined in the mid 50s when 
 Ernst Kuhnel and Louise Bellinger wrote Cairene Rugs and Others Technically Related, Washington, D. C., 1957. Ellis proposed an attribution of Para-Mamluk, from Damascus Syria. The Ellis Syria attribution has been generally accepted but now and then we will see these rugs attributed to Tabriz, Iraq, Syria, or Anatolia (Modern day Turkey.) .  

The Syrian attribution is attractive in some ways. Up until 1517 Syria was part of the Mamluk empire.  There were and are Turkmen in Syria so rugs woven with an asymmetric open left knot are possible. There have never been very many Syrian rugs but then again there are not very many Para-Mamluk rugs.

The Joseph Lees Williams Para-Mamluk Rug

Charlie Ellis wrote the catalog entry on this rug:
Para-Mamluk Rug
Artist/maker unknown, Turkmen
Geography: Probably made in Tabriz, northwestern Iran, Iran, Asia
or made in northern Iraq, Iraq, Asia
or made in northern Syria, Syria, Asia
Date: 15th century
Medium: Wool and goat hair(?)
Dimensions: 5 feet 10 inches x 4 feet 1 1/4 inches (177.8 x 125.1 cm)
Curatorial Department: East Asian Art
Accession Number: 1955-65-2
Credit Line: The Joseph Lees Williams Memorial Collection, 1955

As we can see Ellis is straddling the attribution. He includes Tabriz for no reason that is apparent to me. Tabriz rugs use symmetrical knots in all cases and all time periods of which I know. Structurally Tabriz is improbable. Perhaps the Tabriz attribution is a politic move related to the gift. So this what about Syria or Iraq? I lump them together because for all intents and purposes they are the same. If the rug is from either Syria or Iraq then as Ellis points out it has to be Turkmen. Most probably some remnant of Ak Koyunlu or if Northern Syria maybe Karamanoglu. 

I think there is another very possible origin of the Para-Mamluk rugs which I will address in a future post.
See also

The Mouncey Checkerboard Rug - Damascus?