Anatolian Rugs in Transylvanian Churches


'Transylvanian' Rugs

The following examples in this exhibition (exhib nos 17-37) represent types so closely associated with the churches of Transylvania that they have become known in the carpet literature simply as 'Transylvanian'. Such rugs were clearly also exported elsewhere, many no doubt passing through Transylvania: more than eighty are depicted in Flemish and Dutch paintings alone between 1620 and 1680, and others can be seen in paintings by French, English, Swedish, German and American artists. However, more rugs of these types, made in a triangular area of western Anatolia bounded by Usak in the east, Bergama in the northwest and Izmir in the southwest, have survived in Transylvania than anywhere else.

'Transylvanian' rugs can be divided into two broad categories: those with clear Iranian design influences, particularly in the main borders (exhib nos 17-26), and those with more obvious Ottoman characteristics (exhib nos 27-37). The former, which might be considered the more 'classical' types of 'Transylvanian' rugs, include the earliest examples.



West Anatolian Rugs with Iranian Design Influences

The Iranian influence on the 16th and 17th century west Anatolian rugs attributed here to the province of Manisa is noticeable predominantly in the border designs. Remarkable similarity exists between these rugs and certain extremely fine silk and metal tapestry-woven court kilims made in the city of Kashan in central Iran. The star and cartouche border and the decoration within these motifs are directly comparable. Several Iranian kilims attributed to the last quarter of the 16th century, contemporaneous with the earliest 'Transylvanian' rugs, have small tulips and carnations, which are generally considered to be part of the Ottoman design repertoire, so it is possible that design influences passed in both directions.

The majority of these 'Transylvanian' rugs have similar, quite sophisticated, field designs, and star and cartouche borders. The earlier examples tend to have either a single niche at one end of the field, with the design mirrored on the central vertical axis, or a centralised design in which the pattern is mirrored on both horizontal and the vertical axes, with the spandrels, probably derived from quartered medallions, creating a 'double niche'. On some rugs there are 'lamps' at each end of the field, and on others there are flowers in the same position, and although the arrangements of flowers and leaves are quite similar, each example is unique. The minor borders vary in precise detail from rug to rug, but there are several standard patterns.



Egyptian Rugs with Designs Related to West Anatolian Rugs

Pile carpets have been made in Egypt since Dynastic times, the earliest examples having simple looped pile. The earliest knotted pile rug found in Egypt, at Fostat (Old Cairo), dates from the 8th century: with Z-spun wool and symmetrical knotting, it was probably made in Anatolia. A number of small fragments of knotted pile, also from Fostat, survive from the 10th to the 14th centuries. Some were made in Egypt and others are clearly Anatolian, although many are so small that their designs cannot be determined. Clearly there has been a long tradition in Egypt both of carpet-making and of Anatolian carpets.

Several Egyptian carpets are known from the Mamluk period in the 15th century. Their patterns are distinctive, but they also contain features seen on Anatolian carpets, such as the endless knot motif. They often have a central octagon within a rectangle or square and smaller octagons in each corner, a scheme that formed part of an international style also found on carpets from Anatolia, Spain and Syria. In the early 16th century the Mamluks were defeated by the Ottomans, who gained control of Cairo by 1517. Carpet making continued and the same workshops that made rugs for the Mamluks started to use Ottoman patterns.



There are several types of 'Transylvanian' rugs that can be better understood when compared with some 16th century rugs from Cairo. Technically, west Anatolian and Cairene carpets are very different from each other: west Anatolian rugs have symmetrically knotted pile, Z-spun wool and red dyes derived from the plant madder, whereas rugs made in Cairo are asymmetrically knotted, have S-spun wool pile, with a red colour made from an insect dye, either lac or cochineal. It is possible that either Cairene rugs acted as models for the following west Anatolian rugs presented here (exhib nos 27-37), or that both share a common heritage. The similarities can be seen throughout the design: not only in the columns and their bases, in the spandrels on either side of the arch and in the main border decoration, but also in the minor borders. Having the opportunity to compare the Cairene rugs (exhib nos E2, E3) side by side with west Anatolian examples will hopefully shed light on the development of these designs.

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text and images © Sakip Sabanci Museum, Istanbul, and textile-art, London, 2007:
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