Kazak Carpet with Three "Memling" Medallions, Late 19th century
Wool pile on wool warp and weft
5 ft. 8 in. x 4 ft. 4 in. (1.73 x 1.33 m)
Bequest of Charles Martin Hall, 1915
This long-piled, late-nineteenth-century Kazak carpet from the south Caucasus is of exceptional coloration and fine condition. The three medallions of its central field reflect one of the most venerable of carpet motifs, the so-called "Memling GÜl."
The large production of Kazak carpets in south Transcaucasia during the late nineteenth century is generally considered to have been the work of Turkic village weavers, invariably females. Unlike the town workshops that produced many of the more finely woven rugs of the period, often under the aegis of Russian entrepreneurs, the female makers of long-piled, robustly woven Kazak carpets--such as Oberlin's--appear to have adhered to age-old traditions passed from mother to daughter over centuries.1
Within the Oberlin carpet's simple border of three decorated stripes is a field of three stepped and hooked medallions on a red ground. Fitting the three medallions into the rectangular border, while at the same time preserving their proportions, are stripes of white ground decorated with small, almost randomly placed diamonds.
Apart from the carpet's wonderful colors and excellent condition, the chief interest of the rug are the three stepped medallions. These well-known motifs appear in a number of early European depictions of oriental carpets; for example, on the reverse of the eponymous late-fifteenth-century panel portrait of a young man by Hans Memling (Flemish, 1430/5-1494) in Madrid is painted a still life in which a vase of flowers rests on a small carpet with similar medallions. 2
Recent scholarship suggests that these medallions are of a type known as gül, often thought to symbolize a particular Turkic tribal group.3 Two earlier carpets with the design have survived, one in Budapest and another in Konya.4 Similar motifs are found in surviving weavings from several Turkmen tribes of central Asia, as well as in carpets woven by Turkic nomads and villagers in Transcaucasia, southern Iran, and in many different locations in Anatolia (Asiatic Turkey) today. Other Kazak carpets somewhat similar in design to the Oberlin example have come on the market in recent years.5
The Oberlin carpet undoubtedly dates to the later nineteenth century; carpets of similar weave have dates between 1870 and 1910 woven into their designs. The marked corrosion of the dark brown pile, in contrast to the pristine condition of the rest of the carpet's surface, suggests a date at the earlier edge of this period.
W. B. Denny
Collection Charles Martin Hall
Bequeathed to the museum in 1915
New York, Finch College Museum of Art, 1971-72. Kazak: Carpets of the Caucasus. 5 November - 8 January. Cat. pl. I.
Omaha, Joslyn Art Museum, 1974-75. A Rich Inheritance: Oriental Rugs of the 19th and Early 20th Centuries. 17 November - 12 January. Cat. no. 15.
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, 1978. Islamic Carpets from the Museum Collection. 23 September - 22 October. Cat. no. 49.
Arts Club of Chicago, 1991. Masterworks of Color and Design. 23 January - 13 March. Cat. no. 15.
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, 1993. Order and Rhythm: Carpets from the Islamic World. 10 September - 7 November. Checklist no. 34.
Tschebull, Raoul. Kazak: Carpets of the Caucasus. Exh. cat., Finch College Museum of Art, New York, 1971, pp. 20-21, pl. I.
Cloudman, Ruth H. In A Rich Inheritance: Oriental Rugs of the 19th and Early 20th Centuries. Exh. cat., Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, 1974, p. 41.
Roberts, Ernest H. "Colour and Design in Islamic Carpets." Apollo 103, no. 168 (February 1976), p. 125, color pl. V.
Roberts, Ernest H. "Islamic Carpets from the Museum Collection." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 36, no. 1 (1978-79), p. 75, pl. 49.
Denny, Walter B. Oriental Rugs. Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Smithsonian Institution. New York, 1979, pp. 63-64, pl. 13.
Denny, Walter B., et al. Masterworks of Color and Design: Islamic Carpets from Oberlin College. Exh. cat., Arts Club of Chicago, 1991, p. 15.
Technical Data 6
Length: 5 ft. 8 in. from one end of woven fabric to the other, measured along the center plus 1/2 in. looped fringe at lower end, with variation of +/- 1 in. elsewhere.
Width: 4 ft. 4 in. from selvedge to selvedge across the center, with variation of +/- 1 in. elsewhere.
Warp: light-brown undyed wool, 2 ply S, Z-spun, one level.
Weft: red-dyed white wool, 2 ply S, Z-spun, two shoots between each row of knots.
Pile: dyed and undyed white wool, 2 ply S, Z-spun.
Symmetrical knot: 8 per vertical inch, 7 per horizontal inch = 56 per square inch.
Pile colors: light blue, dark blue, light brown, dark brown (corroded), yellow, blue green, dark brown.
Edges: one cable of two warps wrapped in red weft wool.
Bottom: one inch of red tapestry-weave, 1/2 in. of looped warps.
Top: 1 3/4 in. red tapestry-weave, bound over and sewn.
Handle: substantial but not stiff; typical Kazak weight and texture.
Condition: excellent, with some corrosion of dark brown pile as noted.
1. There has been some controversy over the origins of Transcaucasian village weaving, especially given the complex pattern of ethnic populations in this area. The weight of scholarly opinion today assigns Kazak carpets such as Oberlin's to Muslim villagers of Turkish (Azeri) origin living in the Kazak district, a region today divided between the Azerbaijan and Armenian republics. See the excellent discussion in Richard E. Wright and John T. Wertime, Caucasian Carpets & Covers: The Weaving Culture (London, 1995), pp. 12-43.
2. Oil on panel, 29.2 x 22.5 cm, Madrid, Fondaci—n Thyssen-Bornemisza, inv. 1938.1; discussed by Allen Rosenbaum and illustrated in Old Master Paintings from the Collection of Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza (exh. cat., International Exhibitions Foundation, Washington, D.C., 1979), p. 43. Memling also painted similar carpets under the feet of the Virgin in several of his altarpieces, including, for example, the Virgin and Child Enthroned in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna; inv. 939. Another early depiction of a "Memling" carpet appears as a bedroom furnishing in a ca. 1460 miniature painting from the Livre du coeur d'amours espris in the National Library in Vienna, Cod. Vind. 2597, illustrated in the edition published under the title King René's Book of Love, with introduction and commentaries by Franz Unterkircher (New York, 1975), Folio 2.
3. For a discussion of the gül and its meanings, see Jon Thompson, "Turkmen Carpet Weavings," in Turkmen; Tribal Carpets and Traditions, Louis H. Mackie and Jon Thompson, eds. (exh. cat., The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C., 1980), pp. 60ff.
4. Fragments 62 x 93 cm and 107.5 x 93 cm, Budapest, Museum of Applied Arts, inv. 14427; illustrated in Donald King and David Sylvester, The Eastern Carpet in the Western World (exh. cat., Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1984), no. 14 ill., p. 35; and Konya, Mevlânâ Museum, fragment; illustrated in Serare Yetkin, Historical Turkish Carpets (Istanbul, 1981), pl. 48.
5. Peter Bausback, Antike Orientteppiche (Braunschweig, 1978), pp. 168-69, 170-71, and 174-75; and Eberhart Herrmann, Seltene Orientteppiche 7 (Munich, 1986), pp. 64-65.
6. In carpet analysis, "S" refers to a clockwise spin of the yarn or the twist of two or more yarns piled together. "Z" refers to a spin or twist in the counterclockwise direction. For an explanation of how and why carpets are analyzed, see Walter B. Denny, "A Note on Technical and Structural Analysis," in Walter B. Denny and Daniel Walker, eds., The Markarian Album (Markarian Foundation, Cincinnati, 1988), pp. 63-69.