Friday 5 December 2014

Doors of Jannah-Turkestan East

East Turkestan experienced a popular upsurge in Saph-making during the 19th century,a curious fact considering the scarcity of conventional prayer rugs from the area

158-CAR 89,Schurmann 

159-Silk carpet,Herrmann,SOT X(109)

The majority of examples were produced in the Khotan Oasis.It should be noted that the following divisions-Khotan,Kashgar,Yarkand-do not really define geographical areas of production,but rather aesthetic styles.The author has long been of the opinion that the majority of East Turki carpets were produced in the largest and most important area,Khotan.The differences in construction mirror different workshops and qualities.Thus the Khotan rugs are more rustic,the Kashgar carpets incorporate arabesque,and the Yarkand examples reflect a more aristocratic vein.

The Khotan Saphs can be divided into two groups.One has a Lotus head at the mihrab-apex,the other a rosette.The most common panel design is a tree of life design,sometimes varied with decorative panels in between,at other times as a simple repeat.The spandrel designs also vary from panel to panel,and the most complex examples feature both layouts.Sometimes the panels are identical but the colour changes,or else the spandrels differ.Through an apparently simple ground-plan incredibly complex variations are possible.Interestingly,the Khotan pieces with a rosette head in the field frequently feature a vase device out of which the plants grow.In the Lotus-head examples the Vases are mostly absent.
The most common version features 9 panels,but it is impossible to judge the exact width from photos of fragmented examples-7 panel versions are of course also prevalent.A classic model is the carpet purchased by Siegfried Troll in 1905


Two examples with 3 panels employ the typical Mediterranean colouring but lack the vase device


A five door version at Grogan`s in 2007 employs the  schematic tree of life with very pretty colouring-it is not initally clear that the panels all have the same design

163-Grogan 10 December 2007(40)

However the design can tire after 10 panels,in this case rescued by a rare curled-leaf border

164-Bernheimer,Christies 14 February 1996(184)

Two carpets illustrate the difficulties of reproducing the large Khotan Saphs in a small catalogue

165-166- Christies 4 October 2011(216);Palais Kinski 16 May 2001(642)

Whilst the Palais Kinski piece was a colour marvel,the following encapsulates the typical quirkiness of the Khotan group with its strange field inserts and down-turned branch-holders

167-Sothebys 31 January 2014-105

Two last items from the Rosette-head group

168-169- Nagels 12 November 1993(42);Sothebys 3 December 1988(101)

The second Khotan group with a Lotus Palmette head in the mihrab often employs more complex field designs.The following also varies the border above and below the individual panels

170-Sothebys 7 January 1981(75)

The former, sold at Sothebys in 1981,features panels with a cloud-collar pattern and a variation of the Lotus Palmette.The cloud collar was also used on a four panel piece once with James Cohen

171-172-Skinners 5 December 2009(186);James Cohen

An awkward layout uses Besh-Gul,Pulao and Kochak field designs with a modulating border

173-Sothebys 11 June 2002(76)

Yet another complex field design was in the Straka Collection


A simplified piece with spindly tree motif  drawn without leaves succeeds through skillful colouring

175-Christie 5 April 2011(85)

Two further examples with conventional field(but lacking the vase device) are notable for their general liveliness

176-177-Hoffmeister Collection;Lefevre October 1979(38)

Another  fragment from the Hoffmeister Collection reveals some of the working- methods of the Khotan weavers

178-Hoffmeister Collection

Tiered Saphs also occur,albeit rarely.A classic example was sold at Lefevre`s on 26 November 1982(11)


Another curio,once with Joseph Lavian,has opposed panels,and is one of two known

180-Phillips 11 September 1990(24)

Another four examples have been published,two of which feature Kansu-type Yun Tsai borders


A great rarity is the East Turki kilim Saph in the Wolf Collection


What seem to constitute a pair feature a pictorial narrative design.The first was published by Parviz Tanavoli in Hali 40(15);the second appeared at Nagels on 15 November 1996(6)Both items are dated 1210,but this is perhapa a mistaken attempt at "1910" which would be more realistic.The meaning of this tale has yet to be deciphered,although an astrological background has been suggested


Kashgar Saphs are amongst the most elegant of productions from the Tarim Basin.A major group features the Vase-flower design,a favourite of carpet makers since Safavid times.A three-panel version with typical blueish-red and emerald green appeared at Christies on 22 April 1999(144)

188-Christies 1999

A delightful 5 door model was sold at Austrian Auctions on 15 March 2014(192)It is very much in the rustic Khotan manner and was thus described,but the design is Kashgar style

189-Austrian Auctions

Astute colour combinations disguise the fact that the panel theme is reiterated.Examples are known with a strict panel repeat

190-191-Nagels 5 November 2002(203);Bernheimer

A well-known example,later with Bausback,was published by Grote-Hasenbalg

192-Jourdan 441

The severe look of a mechanically reproduced design can still exude real force



195-Christies 15 October 1998(75)

A last example in the group has all the requisites

196-Phillips 12 April 1988(10)

Five pieces from the Group without vase follow,of which the first two may once have been joined

197-198-Schurmann,CAR 71;Sothebys 3 June 2005(61)

Two examples continue the repeating mihrab theme

199-200-Meschoulam,Hali 85-102;Keshishian 1970

A last piece from Eskenazi recalls the silk carpets in this style

201-Eskenazi 290

202-Silk carpet,Schurmann CAR 70

An unusual pair of carpets attributed to the Khotan zone may also be located to "Kashgar",and once put Hali`s APG reviewer in a quandry(Hali 98-141)

203-Christies 11 february 1998(76)

Printed upside down in the catalogue,the above was presumably thus woven in the manner of certain Turkish prayer rugs.It was first offered at Rippon Boswell`s in 1991,where it was catalogued as the carpet published in Neugebauer-Orendi(1909) The Christies example,consigned by Battilossi,sold for $46,575.

204-Neugebauer-Orendi 1909,plate XVI

Two last woolen carpets round off this Kashgar selection

205-206-MAK;Trefoil XXIX

The few examples which have been attributed to "Yarkand" are invariably of a stiff and monotonous type

207-208-Munich ICOC 1978(107);Meschoulam,Hali 6-3-17

209-210-Cohen,1983(CIV);Christies 17 October 1996(433)

In general less playful,these pieces probably fulfilled a more serious purpose than the "tea-house"style Khotans.


Three types of silk Saphs from the area are known:a silk-metal group woven in Polonaise technique with coarse metal ground in the mihrabs and spandrels,previously analysed by the author in Ghereh:  link ;a group with vase and pommegranate designs;and a last batch with plain field mihrabs.

The Graf Silk Metal Group.

The author has described the Graf Silk and Metal Saph in Ghereh 37.It was first published by Karabacek in 1881,and thereafter consequently misattributed.Its present whereabouts are unknown.Of four other pieces,one is in the MAK,another is associated with the Victoria and Albert Museum London,a further piece is housed in Berlin,and a fifth appeared at Christies on 7 October 2014,fetching £15,000.

Here the original repro from Karabacek of the Graf Saph


next the MAK`s example,attributed to Graf but probably a carpet brought back from East Turkestan by Siegfried Troll.Careful study reveals clear differences in the drawing of the last,righthand panel


A carpet in the V&A was published by Kendrick and in the catalogue to the Franco-British Exhibition

213-Lady Cunliffe

The Berlin example entered the Museum in 1974


The Christies fragment most resembles the Berlin example

215-Christies 2014

The Pommegranate Vase Group.

As noted in the section on Indian carpets,this design has been taken from 18th-19th century Deccani carpets.Perhaps Indian masters were at work here, a large group of Kashmiri tradesmen were known to have settled in the Tarim Basin.The first example appeared at Phillips in 1987

216-Phillips 24 February 1987(2)

A second example was auctioned in 1989,first at Mangisch,and shortly afterwards at Sothebys.It features a solitary panel with sickle-moon,and a vase with long-stem flower

217-Mangisch April 1989;Sothebys 19 July 1989(54)

A third example,attributed to Yarkand and priced at 75,000 Deutschmark, was published by E.Herrmann in SOT VIII

218-SOT 8-113

A last example lately went unsold at Christies London on 7 October 2014(83)It is notable for having a soumak counterpart,one of only two known pieces in this technique from East Turkestan

219-220-Christies 2014;Soumak,Private Collection

Plain field Mihrabs

Another five silk rugs with plain green to yellow green fields are known.The carpet in the MAK,Vienna is representative


What may have once formed part of the same piece was sold at Edelmanns New York in 1981


After an appearance at a provincial auction the following duly appeared as an advert for Vigo Galleries,later re-surfacing at Phillips in 1994(sold for $7,765)

223-Phillips-Vigo-Phillips 26 April 1994(27)

Two carpets with a more yellowish field colour appeared successively at Sothebys in 1999(12 October) and 2000(12 April)



A piece from the Quill Jones Sale of 1952 was in the Schurmann Kashgar style

226-Quill Jones 115

Offered at Sothebys Islamic sale on 18 July 1984(309)was a carpet full of variety and modulating border

227-Sothebys 1984

A piece from Christies 1985 sale,with Kansu influence, later appeared in the fourth Hali Annual

228-Christies 17 October 1985(5)

An "Italian" style Saph went unsold at Christies on 8 October 2013(53)

229-Christies 2013

Long-time detainees in Indian Jails were(and still are)taught to weave dhurries,the Indian kilim.A very common design is the repeating Saph,accompanied by vertical stripes,which recall the bars of their cells-the other side of Paradise



Wednesday 3 December 2014

Doors of Jannah-Turkestan West

A group of fragments from the Magaki Mosque in Bukhara woven in a pure,kilim-like style have surfaced over the last few years at various auctions.The original Saph is said to have been constructed in 1874.The most substantial piece is still held by the Mosque(actually 2 pieces sewn together)


Another fragment from presumably the same carpet was auctioned at Rippon-Boswell`s in 2014,achieving a hefty $166,110

136-RB 31.5.2014-96

A last fragment was published by Bausback in his 75 Years Anniversary Catalogue


Martin Andersen has  published a graphic collage


Two fragments from another carpet both surfaced in London.They were commented upon by Hali as being significantly older than the preceeding,an assumption supported by their condition.They are more in the style of the Beshir prayer rugs typified by a piece in the Dudin Collection


The larger fragment was sold to a solitary bidder for $94,355 in London 1998

140-Sothebys 29 April 1998(96)

A second fragment sold at Christies London on 17 October 2002(141)for $27,730


Interestingly the serrated outlines seem to imitate dovetail kilim technique.

Further reading:Hali APG 99-127;126-135;180-138.

A group of three Ersari carpets with chevron designs appear also to have been inspired by flatwoven counterparts


143-Skinners 5 December 2009(71)

144-Herrmann,SOT X-97

A number of other Turkmen manufacturers specialised in Chevron design Saph carpets with kilim designs,such as the "Eagle-Göl" group.A batch of knotted carpets in traditional prayer rug design is attributed to the Middle Amu Darya Ersari,no doubt produced in large urban centers

145-Straka Collection

The Straka Collection  piece above is generally considered the best of a poor lot.Of unmitigated ugliness was an enormous carpet sold at Christies on 9 April 1988(79) for a measly $6,050

146-Christies 1988

Another large item went at Skinners in 2002

147-Skinners 20 April 2002(54)

Two related examples were published by Schurmann and Eiland,both featuring a mihrab-within-a-mihrab scheme

148-Central Asian Rugs 47


A version with stacked mihrabs appeared at Nagels 37th Sale

150-Nagels 37(27)

Published by David Sorgato in Ghereh 39


The following recently sent in by Michael Black features an appealing Mina Khani in spontaneous style

152-Courtesy Michael Black

Not a Saph,but a small carpet with the remains of its original Shirasi,the following Lot was sold at Rippon Boswells on 19 May 2007 for 7000 €

153-RB 2007

Last but not least a solitary panel from an Ersari Saph in the boteh style


A small contingent of Turkmen trappings mirrors the saph theme,especially a group from the Ersari/Kizilayak Zone


A smaller group from Central Asia,known commonly as "Uzbek" feature a more pictorial view


Plus a late entry kindly sent in by Igo Licht

157-Igo Licht

Doors of Jannah-India

Stone floor Saphs are not uncommon in India

116-Moti Masjid,Red Fort,Delhi

117-Jami Mosque,Hyderabad

Knotted Saphs are less frequent.A Mughal era Pashmina Prayer carpet has been suggested as a possibility,although Daniel Walker in Flowers Underfoot(95) seems to think it may have been part of a Tent-hanging,or Qanat.The Aynard carpet,now Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection,is nevertheless a spectacular product.Its border plan certainly suggest a multi-niche arrangement-the carpet was also woven in a non-perpendicular fashion

118-Thyssen Collection Catalogue,Beattie,plate IX

For comparison,a velvet tent-panel(qanat) now in the MET


From the 17th-18th century,there are three basic types of Indian Saphs.
The first has been attributed to North India(Keir Collection-Spuhler,Beselin)or to Warangal in the Deccan(Steven Cohen,Daniel Walker)This type is stylistically quite different from the other two,although sharing similar construction features(z4-6 warp,perpendicular weave)and more prosaic colouring with tans and duller secondaries.

The most well-known example is in the Keir Collection and consists of a long,probably 7 niche carpet made up into two rugs


The borders of both carpets have been renewed and it is likely that a panel with pommegranate design would have been the centrepiece.This pommegranate design went on to become a popular design in the Tarim Basin.It only occurs on the four pieces in this first group

121-Lefevre 1978

122-Sandra Whitman Hali 142

Thus emphasising the close cultural ties between India and East Turkestan.

A second carpet,apparently complete,was sold at Lefevre`s in 1978 for 58,000 pounds,and may or may not be the carpet already illustrated by Jekyll in the 1920`s

123-Lefevre 6 October 1978

124-Jekyll 2 (1928-9)

A last piece is often mentioned as having been in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection,and seems slightly closer to the Jekylls rug in design(the flattened rosettes in the spandrels)and condition(similar old repairs in the first spandrel,right)

125-Textile Museum Journal II-19

The first group with its "Taj Mahal" look and more ornate borders seems decidely up-market when compared to the Warangal group,in which a strict architecture has been replaced by more window-like panels,simpler border-guards and a frequent intrusion by large trefoil outer enclosures.A looser,more playful atmosphere is afoot.There are two types:a white field  with one repeating design,and a multicoloured layout with differing mihrabs.
Six whiteground examples are known.The first appeared at the Untermeyer Auction in 1940,one of two examples on offer plus a single niche fragment

126-Park-Bernet May 11 1940(210-211)

It reappeared at Sothebys on 25 November 2008 in a truncated form,missing its left border,but still selling for $ 6,875

127-Sothebys 2008

A third time around in colour it sold for $8750 at Sothebys NY on 25 November 2008(139)

128-Sothebys 2008

Yet another four-panel fragment from the same carpet appeared at Christies on 7 October 2010.Perhaps it is the second,unillustrated Untermeyer piece(Lot 211)?

129-Christies 2010

A fragment in the Tapi Collection may well be the missing single niche item from the Untermeyer Sale,with its long vertical stem

130-Foto courtesy Markus Voigt

A similar example,but with elongated mihrab"neck" is in the Reeves Collection,Art Museum Dallas


Two further single panels are known.The first,in the V&A,is said to have come from the Treasury of the Nizam of Hyderabad.It closely resembles the Reeve example

132-S.Cohen,Sultans of the South 125

A last example in Philadelphia has been woven entirely in cotton,with the exception of red areas piled in Pashmina,yet it resembles the others in this group,even mimicking the champfered column protrusions towards the apex of the Mihrab

133-Ellis,Philadelphia,plate 66

Even in the 19th century interesting and beautiful Saph-like carpets were produced,as can be seen in an all-cotton small piece once with Bausback,which seems to have been inspired by Kalamkar textiles

134-78 x 98 cms