On the 100th anniversary of the Budapest 1914 exhibition, when the ‘Transylvanian’ rugs were brought to the attention of the wider public, it’s time to have a fresh look at this fascinating and controversial group. Today about 400 Turkish rugs of different types are preserved in the Lutheran Churches and Museums in Transylvania and Romania. About half belong to the ‘Transylvanian’ group, which is divided in 4 subgroups: Single- and Double-niche rugs, Plain-niche prayer rugs and prayer rugs with Columns. The ‘Transylvanian’ rugs represent the larges surviving group of 17th cent. Anatolian carpets. Studying this group is fundamental for understanding much of the 18th and 19th century carpets of Bergama, Demirci, Dazkırı, Gördes, Karapınar, Konya, Kula, Ladik, Milas, Mucur, and even beyond to eastern Anatolia.
The key idea of this article is that the Double-niche ‘Transylvanian’ rugs evolved from the Prayer format with decorated field (usually called Single-niche ‘Transylvanian’). For long time it was thought that the forerunner of the Double-niche ‘Transylvanian were the Small-medallion Ushaks.
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The Single-niche ‘Transylvanian’ Group
According to many authors the prayer carpet, called sajjada in Arabic, is the “most popular and widely used type of carpet” (R. Ettinghausen). The 17th cent. Anatolian prayer rugs with star-and-cartouche border and decorated field, with a mosque lamp hanging from the apex of the niche are called Single-niche ‘Transylvanian’ rugs. Only 12 First Period examples have survived untill today, mostly in Transylvania but also in Turkey. The overall design is very well organised which points to a common prototype, today lost. All but one show arabesque spandrels.
Little is know about how this design came into being and how it was adopted by the provincial west Anatolian weavers. The lobed profile of the arch recalls the prayer rugs as those illustrated in 15th and 16th cent. Persian miniatures. The overall composition shows similarities to 16th century Safavid or to Cairene prayer rugs and also to earlier works of architecture: the tiled mihrab with arabesque spandrels at the Tomb of Mehmet I in Bursa (built around 1420 by the ‘masters of Tabriz’) or the late 16th cent. Iznik tiled panel, at the Mausoleum of Selim II, in Istanbul.
The field shows a scrolling vine with rosettes, flower buds, palmettes and simplified saz leaves. As in Cairene prayer rugs the composition is symmetrical along the vertical axis, with palmettes, of different types, alligned vertically. The motifs, borrowed from the saz repertoire and partly from the Ushak style are organised according to a precise design:
(1) central ascending palmette pointing to the mosque lamp;
(2) a pair of simplified split leaves above the palmette;
(3) two ‘rotating’ palmettes (often seen in Ushaks);
(4) a pair of four-petalled rosettes below the palmette;
(5) stylised saz leaves with half palmettes, at the bottom of the field;
An interesting feature of the Sibiu example is the cross-panel above the niche, with multicoloured arabesques on a brick-red ground. This motifs have been wrongly interpreted as confronting animals, but a closer examination reveals that they complete the spandrels’ pattern, displaying ivory arabesques on a dark ground. The well drawn star-and-cartouche border, flanked by reciprocal trefoil minor borders and ‘chain link’ stripes is typical for early examples. From the technical point of view this example stands out for the very high knotting density; there are no lazy lines are visible on the back but there are weft colour changes. The rug bears the donor name MICH Stamp, without any date. Research carried in the Parish archives could not trace the donor.
The rug from Sibiu was first published in the 1914 catalogue of the Budapest exhibition as cat. 73 and also in Végh and Layer 1925, pl. 11. This fact inspired several fakes by Tuduc, published as authentic: Schmutzler 1933, pl. 43, and Wulff 1934, pl. 15.
Additionally there are 5 Single-niche ‘Transylvanian’ rugs with arabesque spandrels and decorative cross-panel above the niche: the Avachian rug in Bucharest, the Single-niche from Sighişoara, the Ballard fragmentay rug in the SLAM (according to Tom Farnham it was probably bought from the Turkish collector Kafaroff around 1916), the Bensilum Single-niche (acquired by Herrmann from a collectotor called Bensilum who had bought it from Ulrich Schürmann), and the Achdjan-Tabibnia Single-niche (found in Paris long time ago), which is probaly the latest in the group.
Three Single-niche rugs have a cross-panel with the same religious script, which translates:
Hasten to pray without delay.
The angular design and the profile of the niche of the TIEM example point to a later date. The fact that it survived in a mosque confirms that prayer rugs with religious script were produced for the local market.
A second example, with very fine design, with different spandrels, is the well known Eskenazi-Dall’Oglio Single-niche ‘Transylvanian’ now in Tabibnia collection (see Franses and Eskenaz1, 1996).
A third example, with important restorations, is now in a Connecticut collection.
Three examples have no cross-panel above the niche. Here to the left, the Single-niche rug from Wurmloch (now in St Margaret Church in Mediaş), with a red ground niche.
Two other examples of this type are known so far:
MET 22.100.92, donated to the MET by Joe Mc. Mullan who acquired it from Ballard who bought it in Istanbul, from a collector called Kafaroff;
MIA Doha, CA.96.2012 which belonged to the Saxon collector from Braşov Emil Schmutzler, who published it as Plate 42 in his album of 1933.
The Double-niche Layout
The reason why the Double-niche layout came into being is probably related to a historical fact, the edict sent to Kütahya in 1610, under the rule of Sultan Ahmed I, which stated:
We heard that, weavers are producing carpets and seccades in your kazas (townships) depicting mihrab, kabe (Kaaba) and hat (calligraphy) on carpets and seccades and selling them to non-Muslims.
Shaykh al-Islam prescribes this is against Islam and forbidden by şeriat.
(Ahmet Refik, Istanbul Hayati (1000 – 1100), Istanbul, doc. 83, pp.43-44 Transl. by Levent Boz, Ankara)
So, producing rugs for export in this format was a way of ostensibly obeying the Edict.
When the second niche was added the field pattern had to be adapted. The idea of the double-niche could have been borrowed from small-medallion Ushaks or from book-binding but all the design elements reflect the Single-niche rugs. Most often the field pattern of early Double-niche rugs is not perfectly symmetrical (on the horizontal axix) and there are clear directional elements (like the lamp in this case).
The close relationship between Single- and Double-niche rugs implies that they should be displayed and published the same way, with the start of the rug on the top.
In this way the ascending palmette is pointing up, all the upper part of the design matches with Single-niche rugs and the unresolved part the border (the truncated cartouche, if any) will be in the lower side.
Like all ‘Transylvanian’ prayer rugs Single- and Double-niche ones are woven “upside down”.
In the case of the Double-niche ‘Transylvanian’ from Skokloster Castle the design is almost symmetrical along the horizontal and vertical axis. Arguably the different shades of blue in the upper and lower spandrels could be a way of differentiating the niches.
Star and Cartouche Main Border
A common element of all first-period ‘Transylvanians’ is the star-and-cartouche main border. The distinctive motif inside the cartouche is formed by two confronted split-leaves, usually red on a white ground, joined together to form a ‘shield’. This overlays scrolling flowers issuing from a central palmette. Similar motifs are found in 16th century Persian carpets or ceramic tiles. The star-and-cartouche border lacks a direct prototype among surviving knotted Ottoman carpets but layouts employing stars and cartouches, with floral motives or with Islamic script, are found throughout 16th century Mamluk carpets, Safavid prayer rugs and silk kilims and also in Islamic bookbindings, miniatures and architecture.
Star and Star Main Border
Among the early examples it should be recorded a variant with less elongated cartouches, looking almost as a star-and-star border.
The field of the rug shown here is almost symmetrical but in order to diferentiate one of the niches the weaver placed a supplemetary stripe, probably to point the bottom niche.
The minor borders of this example are typical for Ushak area.
Two Single-niche rugs with star only border, but with large flower and feather leaf spandrels (which are later), survived in Transylvania in the Lutheran churches of Biertan and Blumenau.
Single-niche versus Double-niche ‘Transylvanian’ Rugs
The dating of west Anatolian rugs is supported by the inclusion of ‘Transylvanian’ carpets in Dutch paintings.
Generally only part of the carpet is visible; the carpet is in pristine condition which suggests it was new at the time it was painted.
The iconic star-and-cartouche border is documented after 1620, but usually it is not possible to discern between Single- or Double-niche rugs; but as the rugs invariably are shown on a table it is more likely that those were Double-niche rugs.
The earliest depiction of a ‘Transylvanian’ rug dates from 1620, Portrait of Abraham Grapheus by Cornelius de Vos; this correlates with the period of the Edict of Kütahya (1610).
The small part of the border and field from the Civic Guards Company of Captain Albert Coenraetsz Burgh, by Werner van den Valckert, of 1625 probably reveals a Single-niche example.
Later Examples (mid 17th cent.)
The overall layout of first-period ‘Transylvanians’ can be found in a few later examples where itìs possible to trace the design changes.
The double-niche shown here is carefully executed but the profile of the niche looks stiff and there is a clear tendency to symmetry on both axis. To be noted the filling motifs added by the weaver in the spandrels and in the borders.
Another rug in a Hungarian private collection shows an almost symmetrical design, with central ascending palmette. Given the similarities of many details this rug was probably made by the same weaver as the Achdjan-Tabibnia Single niche.
In the rustic example of Black Church inv. 257 the design becomes angular, the motifs are misunderstood or lost but the overall pattern is still there.
By mid 17th century the design changed: the arabesque spandrels have been substituted by the large rosette and feathery leaves while the star-and-cartouche border became a cartouche only border.
Small-medallion Ushaks versus Double-niche ‘Transylvanians’
For long time the Small-medallion Ushaks have been considered the forerunners of the Double-niche ‘Transylvanian’ rugs.
Despite the similar layout there are major differences between the two groups which do not support this hypotesis.
Finally, we don’t know if the weavers in Ushak observed the same regulations mentione in the Edict of Kutahya but it’s worth mentioning that small-medallion Ushaks (with double-niche layout) are the largest surviving 16th century Anatolian rug group.
For a complete survey of the Small-Ushak group we suggest to vistit John Taylor’s carpet blog, http://www.rugtracker.com/2015/09/ushakistan.html (plates 157-220).
In a next article we will discuss the composition changes of second period double-niche ‘Transylvanian’ rugs, woven by mid 17th century, when this became one of the most successful patterns in western Anatolia.