Sunday 28 September 2014

On the Origin of the Herati Pattern

Considering its  widespread use,the Herati pattern has not received much scholarly attention.It appears suddenly at the beginning of the 19th century in an absolutely crystallised form,probably in Khorasan;an ultra-compact and dense Gestalt rarely seen in Persian carpet-making,which had always favoured more generous designs.

One group of carpets from the late 19th century,apparently produced in the Ferdaus/Qaen/Birjand area represent a last creative use of the Herati pattern and connects deftly to its progenitors.These “Baluch” style carpets(invariably on a blue ground) can be divided into two clusters,the first of which employs a large blown-up screenshot of the Herati pattern without serrated leaves


2-L-R:ebay,Sothebys 2008,Private Collection

In the second,more numerous group serrated leaves have been inserted,often in a clumsy way.The group is on the whole not so illustrious

3-L-R:ebay Gasparion;ebay DM;ebay oldandnewrugs

The borders on these rugs are derived from Indo Persian examples of the 17th century,much simplified


5-L-R:T.Hubbard;Davoud,Amsterdam;Koch Collection

Occasionally a palmette is added to the border system,and the ground colour may vary

6-Clockwise:Akif rugs;A.C Edwards;Anthony Fahmie;Peter Hansen

A final example,with arabesque borders,is a return to origin

7-Private Collection

The earliest carpets to use the Herati pattern are a distinguished group of large Kelleh.These frequently employ an arabesque border,”the turtle” of Edwards,and a distinct narrow yellow guard.The border concept seems to have been borrowed from a group of Polonaise carpets


The wool is soft and shiny,the colours of impeccable quality.Extensive use is made of jufti knotting and the ground structure is all-cotton,with a classic three weft structure,often of blue cotton.The general impression is more of a thin and pliable textile than of a heavy carpet.The design concept was later transplanted to western Persia where it was adopted by Kurdish weavers,border and all.The creators of these early Herati Pattern carpets also wove rugs with the Harshang design,whose elements were drawn from a variety of Classical sources.It is likely that they consolidated this design as well,which appears in a perfected form at the same time.The Harshang was also taken to West Persia and penetrated into the Caucasus.Interestingly the Herati pattern never made much headway into Caucasian weaving until the late 19th century,most prominently amongst a group of Persianate style rugs attributed to Perepedil

9-Ulrich Schurmann

An equally early and elegant form of the Mina Khani design also appeared,featuring the three petal border.

A splendid example was published by Gans-Ruedin


At least two dated pieces are known

11-Sothebys 1983,dated 1806

12-Christies 1995,dated 1807

It must be said that the inwoven dates are hard to see.An often cited piece was at the Bernheimer Sale


Once in the MAK,Vienna,but now lost


An example published by the London dealer Jekyll

15-Jekyll 2-24

A small fragment highlights the typical multi-plane spiral vine framework derived from classical sources,and the delicate coloured outlining


A distinguished weave


Heinrich Jacoby also published two border fragments,well knowing they were early pieces from Khorasan


A number of Khorasan carpets with Herati pattern entered the Victoria & Albert Museum in the 19th century

19-V&A 436-1884

Another V&A piece has a central medallion

20-V&A 256-1892

A further two items, on a rare white ground, feature medallions

21-Christies 1993

22-Christies 2003

Three carpets display a border with white petals,probably Indian-derived

23-Christies 2012

The following with an elaborate border which also appears in a Mina Khani field variation

24-Druot 1979

25-The V&A `s 437-1884

A last white-petal border carpet in the V&A also occurs on later Baluch rugs

26-V&A 300-1884

Two carpets are known with a square format(always supposing that they have not been cut)


28-James Burns Collection

That these carpets,woven for Persian homes,were not suitable for everyday Western use is clear,and many have survived only in fragmentary condition

29-Bob Maurer;Bertram Frauenknecht;Private Collection

30-Patrick Pouler;Private Collection;Gene Dunford

A carpet in the V&A entered the Museum in 1927 in poor condition yet has an interesting combined Herati/Mina Khani design forming substrate medallions

31-V&A T65-1927

And a last kelleh format rug with standard border features an Indian type medallion lattice

32-MAK Vienna,now lost

Contemporary productions also included a group of exquisite Harshang design carpets,some of which are dated.They all feature Nastaliq inscribed verses from Sadi and Hafez

33-Bernheimer,dated 1808

34-Clockwise:Bausback;Bernheimer,dated 1813;Sothebys 2001+2012,dated 1718;Christies 2006

Mention has been made of the copies of the Khorasan carpets later executed in West Persia,chiefly amongst Kurdish weavers.These are generally easy to recognise

35-Christies 1980

An example in the V & A Museum is much more difficult to detect


Dated 1860-61,it entered the museum in 1880,so the dating is likely to be correct,and not simply copying.It is of very high quality,but the colouring is earthier,with less coloured outlining and a folksier approach

37-V&A 390-1880

The motif of a diamond lattice with rosettes and palmettes is a recurring feature in carpets of the 17th century.It is used extensively on Vase carpets as the integral bracket of a scrolling vine system

38-Sothebys 1969

Two carpets,perhaps from Khorasan,exhibit the nascent lattice rosette and leaf designs and also incorporate an arabesque split leaf,which was later carried over into the Caucasus to become what is known as the Avshan design.A heightened marshalling of design elements is apparent

39-Prinz von Schwarzenberg

40-Textile Gallery

Essentially a sickle-leaf design,the Herati can also be deduced from a carpet such as the Gulbenkian


Two Khorasan carpets seem to pave the way for the Herati design inception


The above described as North West Persian by Kurt Erdmann.The Avshan split arabesques are still present but a lot of pruning has taken place.Another item appeared at Christies in 2014


For comparison,an 18th century Caucasian carpet with the "Avshan "design

44-Sothebys 1993

Khorasan was always a clearinghouse for ideas coming from India.An Indian inspiration for the Herati is not inconceivable.With a little historical squinting the Altman Mughal carpet with its rosette-sickle leaf composition(a recurrent in Cairene carpets)might well have led the way

45-Altman Collection,MET

A Lahore carpet in the collection of the Duke of Buccleugh reveals more of the Herati`s underlying vine system


Another Lahore production is,shortly before conception,almost Ferahan-like

47-Benguiat sale 1932

And for design compression nothing can surpass a Millesfleurs carpet( the white petals of Safavid origin)


Much maligned,the Herati pattern eventually led to a trivialisation of the oriental carpet.In the West it entered people´s consciousness through the medium of what Cecil Edwards termed  the"Gentlemen`s Carpet".Future generations grew up on its playingfields


The history of Iran can be read in its carpets.After the downfall of Isfahan in 1722 the old regime was finished.By the early 19th century a group of workshops in Khorasan  had developed the Herati,Harshang and Mina Khani patterns in a concerted effort,and a new era began.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Yomut,göl without a tribe

At least 50 main carpets with the Yomut choval göl are known.A carpet in the Wiedersperg Collection is one of the few utilising a triangular form;the majority were woven using the round Type A göl

77-Wiedersperg,Pacific Collections 119

With its sparse ornamentation the Wiedersperg rug gives an impression of great age.A more crowded example formerly in the Pinner Collection has 15 vertical rows of triangular göls

78-Pinner Sale,Rippon Boswell(76)

A salient example was published by Eberhart Herrmann

79-ATT 4-92

A piece with Bertram Frauenknecht featured an arabesque elem


The judicious spacing of the Herrmann example places it approximately a rung below the most iconic of all examples,the Myers rug in the Textile Museum.A second Herrmann piece features a Tekke-like göl,very rare,but also known from a fragmented carpet, ex Patterson Collection

81-Herrmann,ATT 5-101


Later examples with the Tekke göl become claustrophobic


The carpets were woven with three or four horizontal rows.Their vertical count was between nine and fifteen.Yomut main carpets in general have an elongated format,as opposed to the square shapes found in Salor and Tekke mains.

Three-row main carpets.

A resonant example was published by David Sorgato

84-Hali 167

David Reuben`s piece displays two different elems,a characteristic feature as yet unexplained

85-David Reuben,Gols and Guls II-19

A carpet with Zia Bozoglu was at Christies in the `80s and features a cross secondary


Peter Bausback`s example employs a box-star secondary with elaborate hooks and an arabesque elem design

87-Bausback 1977 

With an immaculate lotus palmette border and rhythmic proportions,the following was exhibited at the ICOC Pacific Collections show,and employs a dyrnak type secondary ornament

88-Pacific Collections 119

A carpet recently auctioned in Vienna with a fascinating minor ornament rose to 54,900 euro

89-Austria Auction Company,15 March 2014(124)

An index of three-row main carpets can be viewed  HERE  

Four-row main carpets.

It`s hard not to escape the feeling that a number of these carpets are mechanical in execution,especially as the number of
göls increases.A lofty example was sold at the Thompson sale,interesting for its single row of triangular göls.It also has the beautiful serrated leaf border,seen most often on the four row examples

90-Thompson Sale Sothebys 16 December 1993(44)-later with James Cohen

Sold at Nagels in 1993 for $2560,the following fragment was notable for its wild authenticity

91-Nagels 23 June 1993(3194)

In the following year a carpet from the Loges Collection,exhibited at the Munich ICOC,sold in London for $23,290

92-Sothebys 19 October 1994(22)

Exhibited at the Atlantic Collections ICOC show,the following has a Tekke cross in the göl centre and expanding chemche secondaries

93-Atlantic Collections 185

A carpet now in the Powerhouse Museum Sydney Australia,has a darker,brooding presence

94-Hali 177-74,Collection Robert Upfold

A gallery of four-row main carpets can be viewed   HERE

The Big-Flower Elem group 

The most prestigious of these carpets display an extravagant floral elem,possibly modelled on Indian velvet textiles.A gallery of similar illustrations can be viewed HERE


However,a group of kepse göl carpets,at least six in number, employ a similar flower elem,albeit more geometricised



The following sold at Sothebys in London 1993 for a modest $6000,a price no doubt reflecting its precarious condition.It was presumably 4 göls wide, as are all members of this group.The carpet has been carbon dated to between 1488-1608(71.8%-see Ghereh 19,p.62)A nice "tribal"touch are the c-motifs within the göls.All but one carpet has the double eagle border


Not be outdone in the condition stakes,the latest contender to enter the fray was sold at Netherhamptons for just under 10,000 pounds.As in the foregoing item,it has the ultra-desirable flower elem at one end only

98-Netherhamptons 14 May 2014(1998),photos Keith Rocklin

A noisy item in St.Petersburg again depicts the floral elem at one end only,in a stiffer treatment,and has a more prosaic border

99-Tsareva,Tappeti 7

With the last three pieces we reach the acme of weaving this particular design.


101-Sovrani 108

102-Myers Collection

The above is one of the supreme Turkmen rugs.It would be hard to add or subtract anything,as,like Michaelangelo`s block of marble,everything superfluous has been removed.


A Turkmen carpet scenario.   

Today we take it for granted that the Tekke tribe created the carpets with the Tekke Göl,the Salor and Saryk likewise.In fact the evidence for this is vague, based on the attributions made by the early Russian authors up to and including Moshkova in the 1930`s .These are often inaccurate by today`s standards,and ignore one of the largest social groups active in pre-conquest West Turkestan:that of the slaves.

Slavery was indigenous to everyday life in West Turkestan.The Turkmen were the main suppliers of fresh slaves through their frequent raids into Persia.Wealthy captives would be taken to the major slave-trading centres of Bukhara and Khiva to be ransomed.Commoners would be employed for simple toil,usually in agriculture or domestic service.A labour-intensive occupation such as carpet-weaving lends itself perfectly to the use of slaves.A carpet workshop would best function with a team of young and able-bodied weavers whose reliable input could be calculated on a daily basis without regard for remuneration or health.Slaves could be deployed like machines with occasional resting times.A plan of production costs could accurately be drawn up;they did not require leave or holidays.Children with strong backs,good eyes and nimble fingers would have provided the best workforces.The most competent among them could then train the next generation,as their peers became too old for the job,and would then be sold on. The workshops may have been situated amongst the Turkmen themselves,presumably peopled by young girls and women.The males would have been located in workshops based in urban centres,whose characteristic weaving style was a “Turkmenising” one,i.e workshops specialised in the creation of nomadic type carpet designs,such as the multi-combination   Yomut choval.The “Eagle-Group” carpets might be an example of  Turkmenising ,but other conservative styles lent themselves perfectly to reproduction by slave-labourers,as the designs were unchanging and simple to learn.At some point in time the göl forms of the Tekke,Salor,Saryk and others were created in a controlled artistic environment. Carpet designers very carefully worked out the various göl shapes for use on knotted rugs,which accounts for the unity of Turkmen carpet design.One accepted tenet of  carpet scholarship is that the Turkmen women wove  the “nomadic” carpets which have come down to us.Travellers to Turkestan did report on the industry of Turkmen women,never seen without a piece of embroidery or spinning wool in their spare time.Actual sightings of women weaving rugs are based on hearsay,which could be due to the situation of women in purdah.However the greater freedom enjoyed by nomadic women was frequently remarked upon.Presuming that the men were often away on raids,they would have had to oversee the slaves labouring in the fields,as well as mastering the burden of extra work caused by the absence of their menfolk. 

Clearly,Turkmen women were proficient in the textile arts of all sorts.Embroidery and the making and repair of clothing would have been paramount,as was the creation of felt and flatweaves.These are items in daily use by pastoral nomads,but knotted carpets are a luxury,a heavy transport item best suited for barter or sale.Wealthy women did not weave carpets.This activity was delegated,as William Irons reported in the 1960`s.Weaving carpets is actually a lowly occupation,but it would have taken place,time fitting,in a social context.As a back-breaking activity it was best performed by slaves.

One casus belli for the Russian sorties into Turkestan was to free Russian citizens who had been kidnapped and held as slaves.The Russians eventually abolished slavery in Turkestan,but it did not vanish overnight.This had to do with the nature of Muslim slavery,quite different to that practised in the West.The slaves in Turkestan were more integrated;they were clothed and behaved in general as the locals,although they formed a distinct group.The Turkmen justified their forays on jihadist grounds;if need be,sunni captives  would be “made” shia by their captors.Far from home,in time the slave population(said by Abott to have been half the population in the Khiva area!)would have accepted their lot.They were often treated fairly and could free themselves,sometimes choosing to remain in Turkestan where living conditions were better than at home.Carpet work-forces would have represented an elite.After the collapse of the slave-trade the re-stocking of carpet workers came to an end.Simultaneously the demand for carpets in the West grew rapidly.The lacuna was filled by Turkmen women taking up extensive carpet-weaving activities at home,and eventually in factories set up by the Soviets.This was along the lines of the Kustar production-offensive mounted by the authorities in the Caucasus.It is known that the Turkmens bemoaned their inability to reproduce the older style carpets.By the time Russian researchers arrived in Turkestan,this was all a thing of the past.There is no mention of slavery at all in their works.

A further aspect to this might be considered.If the Turkmen göls were a kind of tribal emblem,who instigated this?The Turkmen always proudly described themselves as lacking an overall leadership(except in times of national crisis,as in the war against Russia)They were known as a lawless anarchic band.If the various “göls” were actually the “flags” of each tribe,who then decided this,and when?The idea starts to sound distinctly Soviet,like Moshkovas`s concept of the “dead göl”,whose implementation would have required a Central Committee.Can it be that a great many old Turkmen carpets were woven by slaves?And that the progenitors of design were not humble Turkmen tribeswomen,but professional carpet designers working in an urban,Turkmenised environment,whose Timurid- based designs eventually went viral?