Anatolian Rugs in Transylvanian Churches


Early West Anatolian Carpets in Transylvania

Very few Turkish rugs known to have been preserved in Transylvania can be attributed with confidence to the period of 1450-1525. Possibly the oldest of these, with a design composed of two large diamond-shaped medallions, belongs to the Evangelical Church in Halchiu. The Sighisoara Star-Lattice Rug, from the 15th century, in the Monastery Church in Sighisoara, has a field design composed of a lattice of six-pointed stars, each filled with a floral rosette, and a 'pseudo-Kufic' border that can be related to much older rugs. The Medias Wheel Rug, probably from the 16th century or earlier, was formerly in the Evangelical Church in Medias.


  Three rugs included in the exhibition (see exhib no. 3), dating from the 15th or early 16th century and representing different villages or workshops, have the well-known Interlaced-Gul and Cross pattern (known in the carpet literature as the 'Small Pattern Holbein' design). Two 15th century rugs with different designs in the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest, may well have once come from churches in Transylvania. The Sigerus Memling Rug has a repeating pattern of offset rows of octagons each filled with a large hooked cross, named after its appearance on a rug depicted by the 15th century Flemish artist Hans Memling. The Budapest Crivelli rug, only half of which survives, has two star medallions very similar to those on rugs depicted in two paintings by the 15th century Italian artist Carlo Crivelli.


The Interlaced-Gul and Cross Design

The Interlaced-Gul and Cross design, commonly labelled 'Small Pattern Holbein', is one of the best-known 15th and 16th century designs from western Anatolia. It is composed of two different guls that alternate in diagonally offset rows: the Interlaced-Gul, which has an octagon and an eight-pointed interlace star in the centre, and a second motif in the form of a diamond and filled with a large cross. Carpets with this design were already in Europe by the mid-15th century, as one can be seen depicted in Andrea Mantegna's altarpiece in the Church of San Zeno, Verona, late 1450s. Other examples appear in some forty European paintings over the following two hundred years, the best known being the Portrait of George Gisze, 1532, by Hans Holbein the Younger, in the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin.

Some seventy Interlaced-Gul and Cross carpets are known to survive, both large and small, mostly in European and American collections. The majority are on two-coloured backgrounds, with adjacent guls placed alternately on red and then blue or green backgrounds, creating a tile-like effect. On examination of their structure, it is certain that they were made in western Anatolia. However, most of them fit comfortably neither with rugs that can be attributed to the Bergama region in the west nor to those ascribed to the Usak region in the east, and so it appears likely that they were made somewhere between these two centres. At least six Interlaced-Gul and Cross rugs have been preserved in the churches of Transylvania (see exhib no. 3).



Rugs Attributed to the Usak Region

The carpets from Usak are thought to have been 'designed' and woven in organised workshops, from the 15th century onwards, although no records survive of the circumstances under which any existing carpet currently attributed to Usak was made. The number of Usak carpets surviving in Turkey is surprisingly low compared with the numbers that have been found in collections elsewhere.

The carpets from Usak can be divided into two basic design schemes: those with a combination of star or medallion motifs, which generally alternate diagonally and repeat vertically, and those that have a lattice, grid or small-scale repeating design. The designs employed on most of the rugs, both large and small, create the illusion of repeating endlessly in every direction, with the borders simply containing a segment. The main exceptions are the single-niche rugs.

Not all the patterns ascribed to Usak are represented in the church collections. The Usak rugs known to have survived in Transylvania have the eight-lobed Star, Arabesque (exhib nos 6-10), Small Medallion (exhib no. 12) and coupled-column (exhib no. 16) designs. Rugs from the Selendi region (exhib. nos 13-15) are also often grouped with those from Usak Province, as the two towns are only 35 kilometres apart - although Selendi is in the eastern part of neighbouring Manisa Province.



The Arabesque Design

The single west Anatolian carpet design of which more examples have survived than any other is the so-called 'Lotto' (after the artist Lorenzo Lotto) or 'Arabesque'. The majority of Arabesque rugs are attributed to Usak, although they were in fact created in a number of villages in west Anatolia. The Arabesque field design, seemingly a complex grid of diagonally alternating octagons and crosses, is composed of a relatively simple pattern that is mirrored and repeated vertically and horizontally; there are undoubtedly elements in its origin of confronting creatures with birds. Three distinct sub-divisions have been proposed, based on their style: 'Kilim' (exhib no. 6), 'Anatolian' and 'Ornamented'. There are more rugs preserved in Transylvanian churches with this design than any other: 93 are known, making this by far the largest number to survive anywhere in the world. 78 are in the Kilim style, nine the Anatolian and six the Ornamented.



There are some 190 European paintings that depict rugs with Arabesque field designs. The earliest of these is Sebastiano del Piombo's Cardinal Bandinello Sauli, His Secretary and Two Geographers, 1516, in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Lorenzo Lotto was in fact chronologically the ninth artist to depict an Arabesque rug, and he painted only two: one with an 'open-Kufic' border, in 1542, and the other, five years later, with a 'closed-Kufic' border. Both rugs may well have been up to fifty years old when they were painted. Arabesque rugs must have been made for at least two hundred years from the late 15th century.



Ivory-Ground Carpets and Rugs from the Selendi Region

Among the many types of rugs woven in western Anatolia, some of the most highly admired are those with a white ground. For many years these carpets have been attributed simply to the Usak region, but recent research has shown that, by 1640, rugs with 'leopard' and 'crow' designs were recorded from Selendi, a town 35 kilometres west of Usak. However, the variations in weave, handle, wool and edge finishes suggest that they might have been made in more than one centre. Three principal field patterns are known, all repeating, and each with variations: 'Bird' (exhib no. 13a); a leaf shape, probably once derived from a mythological beast, known as 'Scorpion'; and a cluster of three balls, sometimes with a pair of wavy lines, known as 'Cintamani'. The surviving larger carpets only have Bird or Cintamani designs and seem to come from one place; the smaller rugs have any one of the three designs and appear to have been made in at least four different centres.



White-ground rugs 'powdered with blacke' are cited in the 1547 inventories of the huge rug collection of King Henry VIII of England, and numerous Hungarian inventories mention ivory-ground rugs, including a 'white dotted rug' and 'three table rugs patterned with birds' bought in Istanbul for the Prince of Transylvania in 1621. The first illustration in a European painting of a large ivory-ground carpet is in Hans Mielich's Portrait of Count Ladislaus von Hag (?), circa 1548, in the Kress Collection, New York. Widely published in the carpet literature is Alessandro Varotari's Mother, Child and Gentleman, circa 1625, in the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin.

The largest collection of ivory-ground rugs anywhere in the world is in the churches of Transylvania: 37 Bird, two Scorpion and nine Cintamani. One could add to these twenty rugs a further seven (four Bird, one Scorpion and one Cintamani) in the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest, as it is highly probable that most if not all of them were formerly in the churches of Transylvania.

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