Tuesday 7 June 2016

Re-entrant Carpets


A rare Persian carpet appeared at Sothebys in 1981.The von Angeli Re-entrant carpet was cited as an obvious reference,although an exact timeline cannot be determined(1).The Persian rug may be part of a saf,or was influenced by such an item,but its relation to the Turkish rug is clear.Perhaps it is just a later copy,although the elaborate kufi and Shia inscriptions in the field indicate otherwise.They have been thus translated:”Mohammed is the prophet/messenger(emissar)of God (Rasoul)Ali is the righteous viceregent/viceroy of God(Wali)”(translation Hadi Maktabi)The Persian rug is surely copied from an earlier example,which may have provided the basis for the von Angeli.One of the two safs kept in Najaf(2) could serve as a starting point,and it is not difficult to see the arabesque origin of the blue combatant animals in the von Angeli`s spandrels.By contrast the upper part of the Sothebys rug looks like broken marquetry,and the lower orange ground is filled with the angular arabesque typical of North West Persian medallion carpets.When kneeling for prayer the tilted angle on the  Sarre saf (3) immediately suggests the “Re-entrant” style,which has also been interpreted as a symbol of the universal mound,or a representation of an ablutional fountain.Through meaning many things it has survived,and its simple framework made it an ideal vehicle for rug design.Johanna Zick  defined 4 basic types of mihrab design(6),and the concept lived on into 19th century Turkey and the Caucasus,where it became an iconic prayer rug form.Two outstanding carpets from the late 15th early 16th centuries are amongst the greatest of all rugs,and both are in Berlin:the Mamluke prayer rug(4)and the foremost “Bellini” prayer rug(8).The Mamluke example has a closed lower octagon at its base,and a Menorah-like tree of life in the field.The closed octagon does not appear again amongst the classical examples,except perhaps in a Bellini carpet which has been tampered with.The two carpets would demonstrate a clear leap if it were not for the white “Seljuk” saf,said to be some two centuries earlier(5).Yet that piece merely suggests a Re-entrant form in a style which survives into the 19th century.The architectonic form of the Re-entrant is already crystallised on the Mamluke prayer,and in Turkey the design is well established in the late 15th/early 16th centuries,as can be seen on a painting of Lorenzo Lotto from 1524(7).The first Berlin Bellini rug is a small wonder with perfect proportions and an early style Holbein Kufi border.In the same small group is a carpet from the Italian trade which has been repaired at some point between 1982 and 2004(9).In the earlier reproduction the lower re-entry point was closed,as in the Mamluke example.This may have been old,faulty repair which was later corrected-or it has been “improved”.The SPH medallion and boxed Kufi border betray its proximity to the Holbein/Lotto tradition.A charming feature are the two miniature rugs woven into the borders for the sake of corner alignment.Two further members of the “Bellini” group are in the Maciet Collection,and the Pogliaghi Museum in Varese(10).Their relation to the Small Medallion Ushaks can be established by the typical use of cloudband and Fertek borders.A carpet illustrated by Hendley in his Asian Carpets folio may or may not be original-the author speaks of a “reproduction”,but it is not clear if he means a photographic or woven re-make.The carpet appears fragmented,but is otherwise a vapid example(11).A second pivotal group of rugs centres on the Ballard carpet(12) and utilises a ragged leaf border.The long narrow shape is typical,with a skeletal medallion which later appears in a 19th century group of prayer carpets from  the Taurus mountains.Lazy lines can be seen in the second of the Berlin Museum`s Bellini carpets,as in the Pogliaghi carpet in Plate 10.Although shattered,Philadelphia`s example is an intense piece of weaving,with an addorsed animal band forming the niche,as in Berlin 1 and the Ballard-a border band which was later to appear in some “Baluch” rugs of the 19th century.The fragment in plate 13,from a Swiss collection,links well to plate 17,and has a rare border seen in plate 29.A last member of the Ballard group was once with Baron Tucher,and passed to Eberhart Herrmann(14).Somewhere along the way it was altered,and two “Talish” rosettes were inserted into its yellow spandrels.A carpet in the Topkapi(15) relates to the inverted Re-entrant carpet found at the Cathedral in Sion with its flagged minbars and interlocking niche band,both memes to be found later in Keyhole carpets down into the 19th century.The octagonal star-on-whiteground and Ghirlandaio central medallion are indicators of early design.A fragment at the Thompson Sale in 1993(16) was declared an inverted Re-entrant by its then-owner,although this cannot be determined;what is left of the orient stars fragment is still gripping,with simplified addorsed niche-band and Turkmen-style border.Many of the Re-entrant carpets were found at Divrigi,in the Turkmen badlands of Anatolia.A last touch of Ballard can be felt in the rug found at the Alaeddin Keykubad Cami in Konya(17),and the next item,found at Tekirdag,still recalls old Sion with its minbar flags rising and falling,and what appears to be a bisected version of the border from Nr 13 used at its centre.A carpet from the Alexander Collection(18) is clearly modelled on the white Selcuk saf,and later inspired a group of 19th century Turkish prayer rugs.Clearly still old but showing signs of degeneration are the three examples in plate 19.The Ballard rug has a very prettified design,and shares a piece of Nr.13`s border in the minbar designs,as does Sothebys item from 1997,which shows signs of stiffening.The Textile Gallery`s carpet has been restored;the outer borders and lappet elems are not original.A later group is best represented by a rug at Sothebys in 1998(20),with a border also seen on a Ballard inverted Re-entrant rug in the MET(22.100.89)Two carpets with elaborate arabesque borders are in blitzed and completely restored condition(21)which cannot be said of the Orient Stars rug,in which a small comb has been placed in the open end.A carpet at Nagels(via ebay)is clearly 19th century,but charming none the less(22).A carpet in the Sforzesco Castle Milan(23) strives after the early Ballard ductus,but fails.Its missing outer border is no help.Another carpet from the Hugh Black auction is squat,but not ungainly.The meander border group continues with two early-looking pieces from Bausback and Bertram Frauenknect,both with combs woven into the open orifice(24).With three last examples(25) and the eponymous “Lucas” carpet,the Re-entrant theme draws to a close.The Lucas example itself was subsequently restored(26).

A second group of carpets re-interprets the basic design by mirroring the open ends.The Mihrab as such has vanished.Nevertheless,the group brought forth some grand carpets,starting with the aforementioned Sion carpet, shown here with its miniaturised version from the Parsons Todd Collection(27).Queries have been raised concerning the Todd rug,which appears to be an 18th (?)century version,albeit  with the original layout.Its makers surely knew the Sion carpet.A truly extraordinary fragment was presented by John Thompson in Herrmann III(28).It appears to be the vertical half of a symmetrical Re-entrant rug which has been folded over and stitched together à la photoshop.From a “Swiss” collection(usually a codeword for the Wher Collection)it bears a massive Holbein cogwheel medallion and ragged leaf border.No colour info was made available,but the rug appears critically important.Equally distinctive is the fragment illustrated by Ledacs(29) with a vajra border as seen on NR.13 and also on a four-and-one Holbein rug from the Baba Yusuf in Sivrihisar.The carpet has not otherwise been published (?)and its whereabouts are unknown,but modern copies have been sighted, so perhaps it is in a Hungarian collection.The three carpets of plate 30 are now all in the TIEM,Istanbul,which seems the first address for such items.Nr.1 seems closest to the Thompson fragment of plate 28,and with an arabesque border probably anticipated that of plate 21.Nr. 2.has an addorsed eagle border which appears as a field design in a few later works.The borders of Nr. 3 occur on some Baluch carpets.Three pieces from Turkish museums can be seen in plate 31:a bulky village example with swastika border and Holbein accoutrements,a medallion carpet with ragged leaf border,and an allover design rug with square niches.The lost item from Vegh-Layer(32) has a pendant in the Church at Keisd,and a fragment from perhaps the same piece was lately with James Cohen.Alas,they do not seem to be part of the missing rug.A carpet from a Pennsylvanian collection(33) re-enacts the Sion style,although the minbar flags have become a chevron band,and the main border is moving slowly direction 18th century.A fragment from the Kirchheim Collection has jaunty borders and an effervescent colour scheme,although McMullan`s example tops all for Kodak enhancement.Growing out of all this is a further group,two of which feature a Ghirlandaio medallion and quincunx border(34)The Tschebull-Franses carpet is so similar to the Todd piece as to be clearly from the same workshop;the Manilow carpet,also later with the Textile Gallery,bears a ragged-leaf border and has an altogether more sombre appeal.Another  six rugs feature the red and white quincunx border,of which the carpet at Skinner in 1988 is the most relaxed,with its large stars in the spandrels.A true green ground is rare amongst such items,but Herrmann presented one  in his tenth book.The Ursula Mayer carpet is the third of this exquisite group,in which the prayer design has receeded in favour of a centralised medallion.The Rippon Boswell piece performed poorly,the Phillips carpet is a complete restoration,and the Sothebys-Fell example,although on a green ground,has the wrong shape and has lost its bearings(36).A related group can be seen in plates 37-39.It also features a red and white border design,but with repeating swastikas.The Grote Hasenbalg example even has swastikas in the field,and all three items employ a cross medallion.The inner niche of the Eskenazi and Sothebys 2001 rugs have rosettes set to look like eyes,reminiscent of the “Faces” rug.The Sothebys 2006 example is in rare original condition;all of would be happy to obtain a colour photo of the Cairo piece(38).Skinners auctioned two variants,one with a rare blue ground,the other,in 2014,with merely the suggestion of a mirrored niche(39).Towards the close of the 18th century a new group appears,perhaps in the Ushak area,with a Fleurs-de-Lys border.The “H” Group(plates 40-41)is a last reduction of the classic inverted Re-entrant group.Closely related are the three rugs in plate 42.

Although the entire group of re-entrant carpets have been loosely labelled as “Keyhole Carpets”, only one group assumes that shape.The foremost examples were found at Divrik.Considering how few have survived,it is a wonder that the design went on to such a successful career in the Caucasus;but many have perished.The wasted condition of the rugs in plate 43 cannot detract from their inherent greatness;plate 43-3 has become iconic since its appearance on the cover of Hali 38,although no reproduction seems able to capture its ground colour accurately.43-2 has a more simplified lotus border,but 43-1 is action-packed,with its swirling  meander border and auguries of Sevan things to come.44-1 with its “Gothic” border and elongated form comes close to the top,but that award must surely go to the (here)re-constructed yellow ground masterpiece from Sivrihisar,of which countless multiples were made in the Southern Caucasus,even down to the blue-black border.On a more prosaic level,a related group of Keyhole carpets(known as the “Flathead Group”) is best represented by an example in the MAD,Paris,with a lesser example once with Kirchheim and now in the Zaleski Collection(45).The Paris rug has a wild untrammelled look;its borders are worth a separate study.The controversial carpet now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (46) has a border design used on 19th century Denizli carpets and a simple SMU central medallion surrounded by a chain of poorly drawn elements.The left border appears dilated,perhaps as the result of restoration.The little minbar flags of Sion still run round the niche,but otherwise the impression is quite lackadaisical.It was a notable success in Los Angeles.Herr Kircheim `s green keyhole rug has a quincunx border as seen in plate 35,and is an attractive example.A rugged fragment from the Chris Alexander collection excels through its colour,especially a large dollop of light blue.Two last examples conclude this survey,a square niche example from Sivrihisar,patently very old,and a shield carpet from the Orient Stars collection(47)


3-Sarre fragment


5-Seljuk saf








13-Swiss Collection







20-Sothebys 1998







28-Herrmann III




















Late entries

A selection of later Re-entrant carpets can be seen on my Facebook page: