Wednesday 21 March 2018

Club Med II:Pirates!

A different type of carpet featuring Egyptian design elements appeared some 33 years before the first depiction of a Mamluk carpet,in Giovanni Martine da Udine`s Saint Mark and the Saints,from 1501(to recall:the earliest reproduction of a Mamluk carpet is in Paris Bordone`s “Presentation of the Ring” from 1534)This was first noticed by Jon Thompson after careful scrutiny of Kurt Erdmann`s Mamluk painting  inventory,and it leads him,among other factors,to the hypothesis that the “para-Mamluk”(or “tapedi damaschini” as he prefers to call them)were the fore-runners of the Mamluk tradition,created by Turkmen weavers in the vassal state of the Ak-Koyunlu bordering the Mamluk Sultanate.Whilst convenient,such a hypothesis based on a mere time-gap of 33 years,seems incautious.For it fails to explain the origins of the  crystallised Mamluke design vocabulary,which is  more complex than that of the para-Mamluk carpets,or of Anatolian carpets in general.The defining visual characteristic of the so-called “para-Mamluk” group are the triple-tree  designs found in at least 18 Mamluk carpets,and  the small radial medallions   which appear in their most developed form in the large multiple medallion examples,especially the Hapsburg silk and the fragmentary 3 medallion carpet in the MAK,Vienna.

001-after Troll,1937


Possibly due to the accidents of time,the para-Mamluks appear earlier on the scene,or were more favoured due to their photogenic qualities.A simple explanation is that Mamluk carpets can often appear blurred in a closeup,which is not the case with the Anatolian style para-Mamluks,or the Holbein carpets.The Turkish rugs lend themselves better to portrayal.


Painted by Santacroce somewhere between 1500-1550,this clearly shows an elaorate Kufesque border with a Mamluk style ornamentaion in the field.


1501.Saint Mark surrounded by the saints,from Martine d`Udine.This can still be seen in the Church at Udine,and was chosen by John Mills/Jon Thompson to demonstrate the possibility of a 15th century dating for the Chehel Sutun prayer rug.

004-Giovanni Martine

1505.Painted by Lorenzo Lotto,and now in the Church at Treviso,this re-entry carpet with Mamluk decor in the field,is unusual for its triple outlining of the  "re-entrant" area.No such rug seems to exist.An ushak re-entrant rug in Berlin surprises with diagonally placed Mamluk tree elements.



1507.Bellini,The Doge Loredan.The typical Kufesque border and a row of panels with octagonal design.The middle border also occurs on Berlin`s Mamluk prayer rug.


1522.Lotto`s painting of the Prothonotary Apostolic Giovanni Giuliano demonstrates the crystal-clear quality of the best para-Mamluks.This style,with a centrallised medallion replacing the plaited star,is also seen in Beccarruzi`s portrait of 1550.


1540.Bonifazio Veronese,the Rich Man and Lazarus.A large medallion Holbein type.

009-Bonifazio Veronese

A Flanders tapestry from 1540 portraying a para-Mamluk rug in use.


1542.Lotto`s St.Antonius shows two rugs,a Lotto and a para-Mamluk.


1550.Beccaruzzi`s portrait of a Gentleman.See caption to Lotto,1522.


1550.Attributed to Coffermans.A rug with a similar variant design,once in Düsseldorf,has gone missing.

013-Marcellus Coffermans,Madrid

014-formerly Düsseldorf

Jon Thompson believes the Düsseldorf carpet has bee cut horizontally,and published it so.Cut-off stars only appear at the ends of such carpets,not at the sides.

015-Milestones,fig 151

1550.The first of Sofonisba Anguisola`s depiction of a rug similar to the Lees Williams piece in Philadelphia.

016-Portrait of a Senator,Sofonisba Anguisola

1555.The second work by Sofonisba,shows a portrait of her sisters playing chess.Perhaps the origin of the term "Chessboard"?It is very likely the same rug as in the previous painting.

017-Sofonisba Anguisola,Poznan

1581-1584.The Doge Pietro Loedano.It appears to be one carpet lying on top of another Mamluk rug with cartouche-medallion borders.Similar to the large piece found at Divrigi.


During his first discussion of the subject in 1967,C.G Ellis casually introduced the term “para-Mamluk” to describe an amorphous group of rugs he felt to be related,but not part of,the mainstream of Egyptian carpets.The expression was subsequently widely adopted,although not by Jon Thompson,who for a number of reasons now rejects it.Ellis was umbillically connected to the group,at the time owning one of its most salient members,a carpet with repeating radial design now in the Zaleski Collection(207 x 141 cm-2470/

019-Zaleski Collection

Superficially there seem to be two types of para-Mamluk:those with medallions,and those with a radial design.But in fact they are all medallion carpets.The radial-design pieces are 2-1-2 layouts,as encountered in some Holbein rugs.Their tesselation is so dense that one does not immediately notice the medallion layout.Such tesselated designs have been in use at least since the Alhambra,where they decorate the ceilings in a number of rooms.




In carpets their most important appearance is in the large multi-medallion group of Mamluk carpets,which were likely  the inspiration for the Ellis-Zaleski rug.The concept is one of a central node surrounded by 8 elements,or 16,as in the Zaleski,where the plaited star octagram from the Hapsburg silk carpet has been altered by surrounding it with the cypress tress and floral sprigs which are the main characteristic of the para-Mamluk style.

023-Silk Carpet,MAK,Vienna

This trio of designs features strongly on the MAK`s fragmented 3-medallion carpet,in the first and third flanking medallions,but it also appears on a number of other,probably earlier large Mamluke carpets,including the Bardini Blazon and the V&A `s “International” style fragment.


025-The Bardini Blazon carpet

026-Victoria & Albert Museum,London

The trio seems to represent a cypress-tree,a palm-tree,and (perhaps) a palm-tree with dates.The combination of Palm and Cypress tree appears on a number of Mamluk carpets as an “Elem” decor.Its drawing on the para-Mamluk carpets,with their less refined technique,is more schematic.

027-Textile Museum


The central tesselated medallion is surrounded at each corner by triangles which meet back-to-back at the center.The triangular forms were then brought together in a Trompe-l'œil style for the Chessboard group,but with the para-Mamluks they are flat elements serving to contain the medallions.




The Zaleski carpet is distinguished by its Kufesque border,also used on the Holbein-style members of the group.Another interesting aspect to the Zaleski is that viewed from a distance it reveals a medallion-pendant design,the pendants being formed by the connected triangular forms above and below the central star panel.A carbon dating for the Zaleski carpet produced measurement between 1460 and 1640(95.4 % probability)


The triangles are in one design only.Closest to the Zaleski is a carpet once in the Harry Blum collection,sold at Sothebys New York on 1 May 1982(lot 295) for $ 19,800 (330 x 262 cm).It has an inner border band of octagons and a 2-1-2 medallion layout,but features an anatolian style arabesque border of a type also found on some more ornate Chessboard rugs.The corner triangles have been merged into what will become the Chessboard style,but the carpet is difficult to read,very worn,presumably shortened,and badly photographed.It has a similar inner white guard as the Zaleski.Like most of the radial Chessboard rugs,the triangles are decorated with a textile-like decor,a remnant from the great Mamluk rugs.This hybrid carpet is presumably now in the Bruschettini Collection.

033-Sothebys 1982


The third member of this “radial” sction is a carpet once with Campana,here reconstructed,with 6-1-6 layout( 305 x 236 persian knot,50 x 50=2500 dm).



The triple-tree of Mamluk design buffers the field on all four sides,with a double row at both ends;the border is a radical departure also appearing in the Herrmann-Zadah Palmette Chessboard carpet,but here presented in a crude,unmanaged way.

037-The Bode Chessboard rug,Berlin

Interestingly the triangle corner-pieces have been filled with feather design,as on the great “squinches and domes” carpet in the TIEM;a symbol of butterflys.


Around the central medallion the textile-like design has been employed,although the upper right hand element is lost,presumably patched with a piece of the missing upper field.A wall of boxed octagrams surrounds the central medallion.The central plaited star is encircled by six rows of Mamluk triple-trees.Erdmann saw this as a transitional piece between the Mamluk and Chessboard carpets(in his 1961 review of Viale)The most imposing of the radial medallion group,its Mamluk character of isolated geometric units building to a whole is clearer in black- and white.


A last fragment has been in the Textile Museum since 1953 ( 98 x 45 cms; 5270/sq dm-Bellinger-Kühnel;3720/sq dm-Carol Bier,Hali 94-61;55 x 55-3025/sq dm-Ellis/Denny,2002)Despite the differing knot-counts the TM`s piece has been acknowledged as the finest woven member of the group.The fragment fortunately reveals the original field width;the rug is shown here as a digital reconstruct.The feathered corner-piece is again employed,as on the Campana example.A small carpet,the field width was approximately that of the Zaleski,but it has two differing types of triangular corner pieces,of which the lower elements presumably flanked a central plaited star.Instead of the octagon boxes in the Zaleski and Campana,”Talish” rosettes surrounded by eight geometic floral satellites have been used,quite in the manner of a Mamluk carpet.

040-Textile Museum original
041-Textile Museum reconstruction

The previous three examples all have a persian knot,but two others with this design are Turkish knotted.One fragment in Dresden was  reproduced in Lessing`s first book of designs,although some liberies were taken with the design,as Ellis pointed out.A carpet of astonishing beauty,it takes us into the realm of the para-Mamluks with medallion design.


043-The Lessing reproduction

A fragment in the Konya Ethnographic Museum,also Turkish knotted,is another example of 16th century rug pirates working in a different area,with a design portfolio poached from the Mamluk carpets,or their copyists.


Whilst the Konya fragment relates to the TM fragment through its earthy Anatolian charcter and butterfly corner-pieces,the Dresden fragment with its noble colouring takes us straight to the Holbein-related group and an iconic carpet in Philadelphia.A third example from the Great Mosque at Divrigi,clearly very old,seems like a more isolated form of piracy,although a similar rug is illustrated in Tintoretto`s portrait of Doge Pietro Loredano from 1581-84.


Philadelphia`s  2-1-2  medallion carpet is similar to a carpet depicted twice by Sofonisba Anguissola(1550 and 1555)The carpet measures 180 x 138 cms,with a Turkish palette featuring a splendid violet colour.It is both Turkish and Persian knotted.

046-Lees Williams Collection


Few Turkish 2-1-2 rugs have survived in the Holbein style.One piece,now in Istanbul,was found at Sivrihisar.


Its central "Stars and Bars" medallion is much simplified compared to   Philadelphia`s para-Mamluk,which philosophically can only  be related to the TIEM`s great "Squinch & Domes" rug


A Mamluk carpet in Vienna has a perfect 2-1-2 design,and the earliest version known to this author is a Coptic rug now in the David Collection.


Most similar to the Philadelphia piece is a fragmented rug in Berlin,ex-Bernheimer,which is shown here as a reconstruction.





The fragment was used before conservation to patch the center.An interesting feature are the two tile forms used  to fill the corners of the central medallion,occasionally used in Mamluk carpets.The borders recall Ladik work.Jon Thompson felt this was perhaps the greatest of all para-Mamluks(see Hali 71-119)


Returning to the Giovanni Martine painting,a carpet published by Erwin Gans-Ruedin in his “Persian Carpet” opus has captured the imagination of a whole generation of( mostly British )experts,as it has an almost exact real-life counterpart,the so-called Chihil Sutun rug now in Tehran.The reproduction in Gans-Ruedin is however a monument to Kodak enhancement,as in reality the rug (105 x 141 cm) looks completely different.

056-Carpet Museum,Tehran

Modern photos from visitors to the Carpet Museum reveal a divergent palette.The classic Turkish red-yellow-blue has given way to a lurid purple-red ground with sea-green border.

057-Photo: Hadi Maktabi

Dennis Woodman`s letter from Hali 97 confirms the amateur photos and sheds a sceptical light on the early datings,largely based on Gans-Ruedin`s lucky-punch repro and the Martine painting,which actually only shows the lower quarter of the field and the border.


The similarities are so striking that one could think it had been copied from the painting,which still hangs in the Church in Udine,and is justly famous.We cannot know  how the carpet continued in the painting;it might not have been a prayer rug,but a 3 medallion carpet in the style of a carpet now in Doha.

059-Museum of Islamic Art,Doha

In the Chihil Sutun rug the field  begins with a Holbein medallion encircled by Mamluk “darts” drawn in an elaborate way with Persian-style cypress trees,continues with a depiction of two minbars flanking a simple star and topped with four hanging lamps,or Nazars,and a device which is a combination of mosque lamp and two  goblets.The minbars are a playful effect with a yellow topped base with two eyes.There is another Turkish rug with a minbar which may have inspired it,now in Istanbul,which depicts the Kaaba.


The field is topped by a straight and radical  mihrab,reminiscent of an inscribed Komurcu Kula prayer rug.The spandrels contain an Arabic phrase reading either”Hasten to repent before death”, or “Hurry to prayer before death” This script is also used in a number of high-quality Transylvanian prayer rugs.

061-Hali 85-149

It was Kurt Erdmann who first studied these rugs in an essay published in an obscure volume in 1966,two years after his death.Erdmann had visited the Chehel Sutun on October 3 1957 with his wife Hanna,who photographed the carpets.His description of the colours is therefore accurate.


It is not clear if Erdmann actually saw the rug in Isfahan,but he describes the colour scheme accurately,including the “dark-red” ground colour.Such a colour is commonly achieved using insect dyes.But as we have seen,the para-Mamluk rugs used madder only.The Mamluk carpets employed insect dyes exclusively for their red shades,and,as Dennis Woodman noticed,the entire palette is oriented towards the  violet end of the spectrum.An important trope repeated by many experts is the controlled use of a mitred corner,as an indication of Iranian influence(although the Mamluke carpets usually have perfectly turned corners)This is applied to Kufi borders only,though;their Holbein and Lotto confreres simply did not bother.





The general effect of the Chehel Sutun rug is of a slick and well-oiled production.According to May Beattie(and P.R.J Ford) the rug is Turkish-knotted on all- woolen structure.One must ask oneself why a para-Mamluk style rug has colours associated with Mamluk carpets,a Holbein medallion,Kufi border usually seen on Holbein and Lotto carpets,an inscription found on Transylvanian carpets,etc.It seems the reproduction in Gans-Ruedin was manipulated in order to approximate the colour scheme of the Udine cathedral painting.In real life it is quite different and the stiffness of execution and “airport-art” style concept is what lead Erdmann to place the carpet into the Topkapi style group,which includes the Salting carpets as well as later Turkish repro work such as was made at Hereke.This was also the standpoint of C.G Ellis.In his discussion,Erdmann also analyses two other prayer carpets which are closer in style to the Topkapi group,with arabesque fields,elaborate script and strapwork inspired borders.However,they seem only remotely connected  to the Topkapi rugs,being more  lively in their drawing.The Turkish rugs look stiff and mechanical by comparison.

067-Chehel Sutun Prayer rugs:Gans-Ruedin

068-Chehel Sutun Prayer rugs:Maktabi

Erdmann is quite adamant that all three rugs in the Chehel Sutun were made in the same workshop,with similar colours and “technique”although he has nothing to say about their structure,and on this point Gans-Ruedin can definitely not be trusted.In concept the Isfahan/Tehran example is again distinct from the other two prayer rugs.Perhaps what all these carpets have-the Topkapi and Chehel Sutun groups-is their mannered way of apeing the past,the kind of genuine antique fakery which also characterises the Salting group.How could we tell an 18th century copy from a 16th century original which no longer exists?It seems clear that if the British experts had seen a realistic,unmanipulated photo of the Chehel Sutun rug,they would never have planted it in the 15th century:the Gans-Ruedin photo is a masterpiece of chromatic fraud.Compared to the colour in the rugs discussed till now,it is garish,and with its newly acquired bright warp-ends,it looks even younger than it is.A forensic investigation of this piece,starting with dye-analysis(which should be done at an independent center)might shed more light on the subject.

The rug was not unknown in Iran in the 19th century though,as a carpet which appeared twice at Edelmann`s in New York testifies.Of outsize proportions,685 x 168 cm,it failed to sell on the first occasion;its subsequent fate is unknown.The catalogue attributes it to Tabriz,and an inscription at the top mentions an Ismail Bayk Shirani as its maker.It is said to have been ordered by Nasrul Saltaneh for Muhammed vali Khan Tunekaboni,the Prime Minister under Naserdin Shah in 1890(this is a facebook translation which has not yet been validated)The carpet re-iterates all salient features of the prayer rug,but in an incredibly crude way,from a wonky Kufic border to minbars which resemble towers perched on a precipice.A large star attacked by Mamluk darts is topped by the same lamp-double cups,and the lower field bears a Persianised Holbein Octagon.Perhaps just half of the rug has been reproduced in the black and white photo; the design repeated in the other half.It is difficult to define its relation to the Isfahan rug,which perhaps hung for a long time in the Chehel Sutun on public display.

069-Edelmann`s New York,1980

The latest member of this esoteric group is now in Doha,said by Jon Thompson to have passed through the trade in 1985.

070- reconstruction

This charming rug represents a further step towards village simplification,although its border is still well-drawn. The butterfly corner-piece lack exuberance,the yellow on blue outer guard of the medallions is feeble. But the endless-knot spokes provide rigid force and the Mamluk altars surrounding the medallions reveal a knowledge of the original style.The diagonal floral rivets reoccur in the Transylvanian group.No technical information seems available for this carpet.


Other pieces have been considered as candidates for this group,in particular a carpet in the Museum of Islamic Art,Cairo.


It was declared late 19th century by C.G Ellis,but resuscitated by Jon Thompson in Milestones.However,in his re-vamp of the Milestones text from 2012 the carpet has been consigned to a footnote.It is worth noting that the Museum in Cairo had no carpets before 1949,when it was the recipient of a large collection.

Also considered en passant by Jon Thompson were the two "soumak" carpets,in the Textile Museum and the Hermitage.Controversy rages over their actual structure.Thompson claims to have seen pile under the soumak,which must he considered to be antique restoration.Elena Tsareva repudiated this.They would be good candidates for the para-Mamluk group with their elaborate Kufesque borders(too symmetrical) and their stars-and-bars medallions.The drawing however is banal and the colouring  poor.And who has ever seen a soumak with depressed warps?

073-Hermitage-Textile Museum

It seems plausible that the para-Mamluks were produced shortly after the Mamluk carpets came online.They copied the triple-tree design and created a radial medallion leitmotif which was subsequently adopted by a group known as the "Chessboards"The most extreme examples,such as the Campana,mirror the Mamluk design density,but they have little of their bravura.It is illogical to believe that they preceeded the Egyptian rugs.Most likely they were produced  in Anatolia,even if the notion of a Persian-knotted Turkish rug is for some dificult to accomodate.Each one is a unique creation and there is really no cohesion within the group,but small clusters can be made out.Their earliest date of production is around 1501(the Udine painting)but this does not automatically mean that extent carpets are from that time.


A highly interesting needlepoint carpet showed up at Sothebys on 4 October 1994(lot 50)

Sothebys 224 x 165 cm

Credibly dated to around 1875,it appears to have been copied from a carpet which combined elements of the TIEM`s "Squinches and Domes" rug,and Philadelphia`s para-Mamluk.If such a carpet existed,it would be the missing link between the two groups.