A New Perspective
Symposium & Exhibition 10 th September 2016
Dear friends of Turkmen weaving,
For more than fifteen years, Jürg Rageth worked on his comprehensive publication on Turkmen carpets and, in close collaboration with leading specialists, conducted in-depth research providing entirely new insights. His ground-breaking study combines art historical and ethnological research into these Central Asian rugs with radiocarbon analyses of the published objects and tests of the materials and dyes used. His major two-volume work was published in March of this year:
Turkmen Carpets. A New Perspective. An interdisciplinary study including radiocarbon dating, dye and mordant tests, and technical analyses as well as historical and art historical sources.2 volumes, Sarnen, Switzerland, 2016
This has given us occasion to organise a symposium in Wiesbaden on Saturday, 10th September 2016. There are obvious reasons why our company should host a symposium on this theme. Turkmen collector’s rugs have been a focal point in the auctions held by Rippon Boswell for many decades. We have sold many outstanding objects since the Eighties, often achieving top prices. As a result, Rippon Boswell has established close links with leading collectors in this specialist field who either consigned their treasures for auction, such as Robert Pinner, or who acquired rare items for their collections as buyers. Consequently, we have been entrusted with distribution of the Rageth book in Europe by the author. – It is well known that no colour image, however perfect, can compete with an impression of the original. It is thus very important to view the original objects at least once. The exhibition accompanying the symposium will present some eighty rugs from the publication. We warmly invite you to participate in the event.
- • On 10th September 2016 we will welcome our guests from 11 a.m.
- • Presentations will start at 2 p.m.
- • Professor Ulrich Schneider, who reviewed the publication, will begin with a brief introduction from an art historian’s perspective.
- • Jürg Rageth will then speak on the theme, “Der turkmenische Teppich und der Alte Orient” (Turkmen carpets and the ancient Near East).
- • The next presentation by Dr. Oskar Kaelin (Basel University) will address “Frühe Textilien im Alten Orient. Eine archäologische Perspektive” (Early textiles in the ancient Near East. An archaeological perspective).
- • For the third presentation we managed to enlist Michael Franses (formerly director for cultural projects at the museum in Qatar). He will speak on the theme, “Some of the Oldest Surviving Tapestries and Carpets”.
- • The symposium ends at 7 p.m.
Short summaries of the three presentations and Professor Schneider’s book review are listed below.
The rug exhibition will be open to visitors during the following hours:
- • Saturday, 10th September 2016 from 11 a.m.
- • Sunday, 11th September to Wednesday, 21th September 2016, daily from 1 – 6 p.m.
The Turkmen Carpet and the Ancient Near East
The Turkmen carpet design repertoire known today is derived from an accumulation of leftovers of important designs and motifs from historically significant periods of the world of the Ancient Near East, Late Antiquity, and early Islam. This historic cultural region includes the Levant, Eastern Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Iran and Western Central Asia. - Not only do designs and motifs point to an Ancient Near Eastern origin, the knotting technique itself seems to originate from this area. Such an idea is supported not only by the earliest finds of knotted textiles from Egypt and Mesopotamia, but also by bronze age carpet tools found in the Sumbar valley in the Kopet Dagh mountain range in the south of contemporary Turkmenistan.
Early textiles in the Ancient Near East: an archaeological perspective
Textiles have been produced in the Ancient Near East since a very long time. As early as the 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC, a large and well-organized textile industry had developed in Mesopotamia and Syria. In addition to manufacturing controlled by palaces and temples, private trading houses produced a variety of goods for everyday use and export. Textiles were not only important accessories in representation and as diplomatic gifts, but were also used for compensations, dowries, and grave goods. Archaeological discoveries and thousands of cuneiform texts provide rich information about this ancient and diverse craft, as well as early indications for the development of knotting.
Some of the Oldest Surviving Tapestries and Carpets
The oldest surviving knotted pile carpet has for many years been considered to be one that was discovered in a Scythian tomb at Pazyryk in the Altai Mountains in Southern Siberia in 1948 by the Russian archaeologist S.I. Rudenko. That, at least, is what you find written in St. Petersburg by the Hermitage Museum where the carpet is kept, on the internet, and in most carpet books and articles. Some years later, Ulrich Schürmann had written that the Pazyryk carpet was so sophisticated that the art of the pile carpet was certainly much older. In fact, within thirty years of this fabulous discovery, other knotted pile rugs, smaller but in equally good condition and considerably older, became known: three from Mongolia and one from Iran, although these were much less publicised.
In the early 1920s, more than quarter of a century before Rudenko's discovery, Kurt Erdmann had noted in his files at the Berlin Museum that the patterns of Assyrian, Greek, Roman and Hellenistic carpets could be seen on stone pavements, though none of the carpets themselves were thought to have survived.
A decade later, in 1933, Maurice Dimand published a fragment of an early cut-pile rug with a 'mosaic' design from the city of Antinoë in Egypt, which was made in the 2nd or 3rd century CE and is now in the Metropolitan Museum. The pattern of the Antinoë carpet fitted well with Erdmann’s ideas. Then, in 1944, Elizabeth Riefstahl published some woven covers that combined both pile and tapestry techniques, from an Egyptian tomb built some 3,400 years ago, taking back the date of floor covers considerably earlier.
James Mellaart's discovery in Turkey of Neolithic woven textile scraps made more than 9,000 years ago (Çatal Hüyük: A Neolithic Town in Anatolia, 1967), opened the possibility that carpets may have been several thousand years older than those found in Ancient Egypt.
In 1991, in HALI Magazine, Udo Hirsch clarified the history of early carpets at that time and brought to the carpet world’s attention the fact that the woven covers published almost fifty years earlier by Elizabeth Riefstahl, previously thought to have been in a looped technique, were in fact made with symmetrical knots, identifying them as the earliest surviving examples made in this manner. Based upon the discovery by Leonard Woolley at Ur in Mesopotamia of a 4,500-year-old piled textile, Hirsch proposed that pile weaving began some 5,000 years ago.
More recently, in Pre-Islamic Carpets and Textiles from Islamic Lands (2014), Friedrich Spuhler illustrates sixteen pile carpets (fragments) and ten flatweaves (in several different techniques) found in Northern Afghanistan, that are now in the al-Sabah collection in Kuwait. Having chosen to write only about the Kuwait collection, without reference to other known examples, he attributes most of these carpets and flatweaves to 'provincial' Sasanian production. These early carpets form part of a wider group of more than seventy examples that also include others found in Xinjiang, the latter well known to carpet scholars and examined more recently by Zhang He. With closer study of the entire corpus of surviving rugs and fragments in collections throughout the world, looking at techniques and materials as well as patterns, Spuhler may well have reached a different conclusion.
Over the last twenty years, an international group of art historians, archaeologists and scientists, including Elena Tsareva, Ulf Jaeger, Zhang He, Edward Rtveladze and others, have been working on the early pile carpet as well as many of these more recent discoveries, in particular those from Bactria and Iran. They have been understandably reluctant to release their individual research prior to the assembly of all the technical and scientific material, and their plan has been to compile and publish: A Revised History of the Oriental Carpet in a special volume for Hali, which it was hoped they could complete within four years.
Part of this story of the 'Birth of Rug' was presented in 2011 at a conference in Exeter, and later as an abridgment to the New York Rug Society and at a symposium in Doha in 2013. It was also hoped that many of these important finds would be brought together as one of the series of carpet exhibitions planned for Qatar 2017. However, earlier this year the Qatar Museums decided to cancel indefinitely all the planned carpet exhibitions and symposiums.
Michael Franses will give a brief outline of the present history of the carpet from pre-Islamic times.
Turkmen Carpets. A New Perspective
By Jürg Rageth, in collaboration with Hans Christian Sienknecht, with contributions by Georges Bonani, Jan Wouters and Ina Vanden Berghe Jürg Rageth/Freunde des Orientteppichs, Sarnen 2016
2 volumes, 888 pp., 128 colour plates, 1,500 b/w illustrations, 5 maps, tables of C-14 datings, dye and mordant tests
Limited edition (ISBN 978-3-89790-445-3), Hardbound, €195
Reviewed by Ulrich Schneider
Jürg Rageth has worked for almost two decades on this seminal publication in a specialist field of oriental weavings—Turkmen carpets. Having previously worked with Anatolian kilims, his analysis of scientific data from radiocarbon dating of wool samples and thinlayer chromatography testing for dyestuffs, considered in the light of extensive studies on the history of Turkmen rug designs, allows the ‘new perspective’ of the title.
These last twenty years have been a propitious time for a new approach to works of art previously thought ethnologically inferior to those produced by advanced European and Asian cultures. The 1995 London exhibition ‘Africa: The Art of a Continent’ opened eyes—often clouded by a colonial view—to the high cultures of this southern world. At the same time, Jacques Kerchach managed to persuade Jacques Chirac, the mayor of Paris and later French president, to pay tribute to African, Asian, Australasian and American art, and even to have masterpieces of L‘art premier included in the Louvre. Chirac immortalized himself by establishing a new art museum by the Seine, which brought together the collections of several ethnographic museums. It is revealing that in 2006, the only name that could be found for the building shaped like a massive container vessel simply echoed its location, Musée du Quai Branly.
This was a time when European cities made a clean sweep of old names such as ‘Ethnology Museum’ or ‘Museum of Ethnography’; Munich now has its Museum Fünf Kontinente, Frankfurt am Main, Weltkulturen Museum, Basel, Museum der Kulturen, and Vienna, inevitably, a Weltmuseum. In 2003 Neil MacGregor created the Enlightenment Gallery, a huge museum within the British Museum displaying the history of man’s efforts to put the world in order. The Louvre, in turn, opened a very large Islamic department in 2012; under a high-tech nomad tent, it presents the art of the Near East in a meaningful setting incorporating Late Antique, Jewish and early Christian cultures. Berlin is currently building the Humboldt Forum—a prefab city palace—in a highly disorganized way, and we can only hope that MacGregor, appointed in haste to head the founding directorship, and his co-directors will soon break their hermetic silence and tell the world how they intend to present non-European cultures.
In his introductory essay, Rageth follows recent research in tending towards the view that Turkmen tribes began to settle in Central Asian oases during the 16th century. Based on recent finds of a very early date, he proposes that the art of the pile rug developed there in the pre-Christian era. During the 10th century, this multicultural blend of peoples was united from the Caspian Sea to the Pamir Mountains under the umbrella of Islam, a process that also changed the designs of their rugs. However, the only surviving Turkmen rugs date from the 15th and 16th centuries, following the return of the tribes from exile after successive invasions.
This comprehensive study begins with a basic introduction to the working materials. 26 private lenders, and eight institutions in Russia, USA, Qatar and France, submitting their works to scientific testing, must be lauded. Rageth illustrates 128 items in excellent colour, and 39 objects in black-and-white. They are grouped into the familiar Salor, Saryk, Tekke, Ersari, and later Chodor and Arabachi tribal groups. He draws on the latest insights to subdivide the so-called Yomut family into the Yazir-Karadashli, Yomut, and other groups known by names of convenience (‘eaglegöl’, ‘P-Chodor’). His reference pieces are further organised within tribal groups by object type.
Individual descriptions are organised using the same, highly objective system of tribal names and geographic classification as well as types of object, including their designs, structures, sizes and dates. These are followed by provenance, primary literature and comparative pieces, with detailed citations. Rageth then gives technical analyses including materials, weaving and knotting structure and side and end finishes. When available, these are followed by dye and physical analyses to determine age. He refrains from discussing their condition, perhaps because of the detail illustrations provided. Tested dates range from 15th century (1), 16th century (12), 17th century (40), 18th century (40) and 19th century (34), to the 20th century (1), with most dating from well into the 17th century to 1880. This is significant because the textiles were produced when the speed of travel averaged less than 25 kilometres per day. In the study of dialects, this is not considered a factor that favours intermingling. We may thus assume that the rugs were produced using autochthonous techniques and design principles.
In the past three decades, science has found entry into international art history. Advanced materials science has helped gain an insight into the trade in raw materials, and of course that same science has led to the recent exposure of forgeries. In his analyses, Rageth relies on the expertise of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels (KIK-IRPA) for dye analysis and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) for C-14 tests. Lending institutions also supplied their own analyses. Furthermore, he maintained a constant dialogue with scholars at the Abegg Foundation, Riggisberg.
Jan Wouters lucidly introduces the subject of dye analysis using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) with diode-array detection (DAD), allowing complex dye mixtures to be separated in a short space of time. He explains the dyestuffs appropriate for different materials such as wool and silk (proteins) or cotton and linen (carbohydrates). In Turkmen weavings, it is especially useful to look at the shades of red. Methods for analysing these reds are complex, so the large number of rugs of fairly similar age proved valuable for compiling comparative statistics. The biological sources available in a specific area can thus be determined with relative certainty, while at the same time verifying the trade in dyestuffs with neighbouring regions.
Wouters finds that the red dyes used in the Central Asian region originated not only from the tribes’ own territories, but from an area ranging from China to the Mediterranean. Precious red dyes were obtained from female scale insects, supplemented by so-called Mexican cochineal from Central and South America, traded in Asia since 1580. Armenian, Polish, and Ekin cochineal were also used, as well as kermes and Indian lac. Madder and sappanwood provided red vegetable dyes. It is possible to separate the various red dyes with a fair degree of certainty. Ina Vanden Berghe then explains how this is achieved.
A difficulty is encountered in the use of mordants, as these change the dyes and must be separated. The 126 wool and silk samples examined produced varying results. While it was possible to determine the species of cochineal in all the wool samples, it could not always be established with certainty for the silk. Additional semi-synthetic and synthetic dyes were found in late 19th-century pieces.
The reports have resulted in insights enabling attribution to tribes based on dye analysis. In particular, Salor-Saryk-Tekke weavings can be narrowed down according to the materials used. Intense shades of red were achieved by mixing Mexican and Armenian cochineal as well as lac. This study is the first to provide evidence of Mexican cochineal in Turkmen textiles. The Salor only used lac. From the 17th century, intensity was enhanced by a tin mordant.
Dye research is particularly effective when combined with radiocarbon dating to determine age. Georges Bonani explains the procedure. All living beings take in C-14, so their time of death can be determined by measuring the decay of the isotope. Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) has significantly reduced the sample sizes and measuring times of C-14 materials. However, the massive impact of environmental changes in the past 300 years means that the C-14 results must be adjusted and correlated to other types of material analyses as well as to historic and stylistic evidence. Only then is it possible to determine the respective time spans with varying degrees of probability.
Age determination has played a central role since Turkmen rug studies began in the 19th century. Differences in condition were sometimes misleading. Scholars were often deceived by appearance and dated the oldest pieces to the 18th century. This changed with the advent of C-14 dating for the genre in 1997. Visual assessments and design analyses remained inaccurate, and attempts to assume the use of silk is a more recent technique also failed. The use of synthetic dyes allows items to be dated to the period after 1880. Purchase dates are important since Turkmen rugs only came into western hands in large numbers after 1880. In conjunction with statistical evaluations of dye materials, radiocarbon testing has permitted reliable dating of a small number of Turkmen rugs.
In the second volume, Rageth devotes five themes to the tribal groups and their weavings. He outlines the history of the tribe and its homeland, then discusses their weavings: techniques, materials, dyes and designs. Next he examines individual objects. His attention focuses primarily on tracing the origin of motifs, some of which may date back to sources from the distant past.
He challenges the view that the Salor were the dominant textile artists. Rather than bringing their art with them, as usually assumed, they probably adopted it after the 10th century from a group living in western Central Asia. However, their weavings are remarkable for the precision and complexity of their designs and materials. He surmises that Sogdian or Sasanian pieces—in effect, the works of Mesopotamian high culture— served as models, with specific designs passed on until well into the 19th century. After the defeat of the tribe, the Saryk, Tekke and also the Yomut continued to use the same designs. In the case of the Ersari, Rageth throws light on the way in which ancient eastern representations of landscapes relate to ikat designs. He also traces the origins of the mina khani and senmurv designs. His chain of evidence is convincing and substantiated by many examples.
A long chapter is devoted to the origins and development of Turkmen rug designs from the local traditions of the oases of Margiana, Bactria, Sogdia and Chorasmia. Rageth aims to show that settled population groups in those areas passed their designs to the Turkmen tribes. He proceeds by examining groups of objects. His initial focus is on ensis, which he identifies as symbols of power and prestige objects used by the khans. He attributes the large number of surviving ensis to commercial production in the second half of the 19th century.
A second detailed study considers the ak su lattice (see HALI 187, pp.86-7) and a third the chajkeölbagi, an X-shaped cross seen in the weavings of many tribes. The term translates as amulet bag, and there is evidence that it was used as such by the tribes. Rageth comes up with a consistent timeline for the ‘Saint Andrew’s Cross’, tracing it from the Neolithic to the 20th century. Even those with well-founded doubts about its continuity will be swayed by the wealth of material, extending in geographic terms from the Indus to the Danube.
At almost 900 pages Rageth’s corpuswerk can be said to be one of the most important publications in the field of Turkmen carpets. It combines the author’s knowledge with contributions by leading scientists and collectors. As an art historian at home in medieval culture, I am familiar with long lines of continuity. Rageth’s work can be commended as a manual for amateurs in the field of eastern textiles. For experts and collectors of rugs of other types, it offers references and a range of new ideas. In particular, his refreshingly unclouded interdisciplinary perspective, using all available methods from linguistics to isotope analysis, has allowed him to create a treasure trove that will inspire many new approaches to research.
“Turkmen are Back” in Sartirana
After eight years, Turkmen are Back in Sartirana Textile Show with a major exhibition of top pieces (mostly main carpets) all from Italian collections. Stars of the show will be some of the pieces illustrated and described in the recently published book by Jürg Rageth: “Turkmen Carpets. A New Perspective”.
On September 10th an exhibition of various carpets from that book will be opened at Rippon Boswell in Wiesbaden together with a Brief Symposium. The Sartirana Exhibition will be opened instead on September 14th giving visitors and Turkomaniacs coming from overseas the unique opportunity of attending both events and viewing two important shows in the same week. One of the Tea-Time-Textile-Talks, the traditional Sartirana’s Short Lectures will be in fact devoted to a presentation of the book and the accompanying exhibition.
The Exhibition will present only examples from the Italian Collections including the extraordinary 17th Century Yomut Main Carpet belonging to Edoardo Concaro and published as no. 101 (p.216/17) in Raget’s book, facing the similar but slightly later example of Moshe Tabibnia’s Collection (no. 103, p. 220/1). Other exhibits include a late 18th c. Salor Torba or hanging with Kejebe/darvaza design (no.5, p. 24) now with David Sorgato and few others. Besides them some important and still unpublished examples will be shown, including an unusual and rare “C Gül” Yomut, an Arabachi Ensi and many others.
The exhibition will be held in the renewed spaces of the ground floor of “La Pila”, the seventeenth-century rice mill, where the Sartirana Textile Show is traditionally organized.