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An Unusual Saryk Carpet in the Islamisches Museum, Berlin

by Robert Pinner

This article originally appeared in OCTS , Vol. 1 (a HALI/OCTS publication)

Although Turkmen rugs have been studied for longer and rather more comprehensively than most post-classical carpets, many are difficult to attribute. Some, and this includes groups of smaller rugs as well as individual examples, possess too many features which set them apart from the established types, others possess too few, and hover on the border line between apparently well known groups. The archaic carpet fragment in the Islamisches Museum in Berlin (inv. no. 17255, Figure 1) falls into the latter category.

Figure 1. Saryk carpet fragment, probably 18th century. The original carpet had 3 rows of gulli gols. 1.43 (2.07?) x 2.14m. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Museum für Islamische Kunst, Inv.no. I. 7255.

Orignally almost square in format, the carpet has been skillfuly cut and one of its original three rows of six gulli gols removed. It has also lost its ends and sides, including presumably, the outer guard border, and judging by the angled design visible on the piece used to patch the long hole on the left, it may have had an additional outer stripe.

For a long time, the gulli gol was thought to be tthe exclusive property of the Ersari and, in various forms, of the neighboring Uzbek and Kirghiz weavers in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. In 1983, however, a well known carpet fragment with the gulli gol in the Textile Museum in Washington , DC (Figure 2), which had belonged in turn to Ames B Thatcher and Joseph V McMullen, was convincingly identifed as a Saryk weaving on the basis of the symmetric knot, its use of white cotton and its knot count (Table 1). which lies outside the normal range for Ersari carpets, and in 1985, a similar carpet was sold in the United States of which we have no structural data (Figure 3). Since only one of the three features which distinguishes the McMullen fragment is shared by the Berlin carpet, it is useful to try to define the relationship to Saryk and Ersari weavings more closely. Figures 4 and 5 show Ersari carpets with "lobed" gols of similar outline and with very similar interior drawings to those in the Berlin carpet. They also share the same secondary ornament, a flagged version of the kurbaghe gol, although while those in figures 1 and 2 are filled by a broad diagonal cross with indented ends, those in the Ersari examples in figures 4 and 5 are in the slighlty different form of a symmetrical eight pointed star.

The major border seen on the Berlin carpet was used on main carpets of the Salor, Saryk and Ersari, and the fact that the guard border with its "tuning fork" motif is also found on Ersari carpets is demonstrated in figure 4.

Figure 2. Saryk carpet fragment, formerly Joseph V. McMullen Collection, 0.23 x 0.26m The Textile Museum, Washington DC, Inv.no.1965.63.4

Nor do the colours offer a clear indication of the tribe which wove the Berlin carpet. The somewhat brownish red of the ground, and the apricot shade used within the gol are found in early Saryk as well as in som eearly Eresari pieces and are often attributed to carpets of the middle Amu Darya region. Although the areas of white pile in the Berlin carpet are of wool rather than cotton, this too is not unusual for early Saryk carpets.

Figure 3. Saryk carpet (detail), Sothebys, NY,May 18, 1985, lot 75, also HALI, 1985 Vol. 7, no. 3, p. 78

Figure 5. Ersari carpet (detail), Private Collection, UK

At first sight, the relatively coarse weave of the Berlin fragment with 29 knts per cm in the horizontal direction and 43 per dm in the vertical (ca. 1200 knots/sq. dm) is much more characteristic of Ersari main carpets than of Saryk in which the knot count generally ranges upwards of 1800 knots/sq. dm. However early Saryk carpets of the Amu Darya type tend to be less finely woven and at least one example, a well known carpet with the temirjin gol in an Austrian collectio, has a comparable knot count of 30h x 47v per dm (ca. 1400 knot/sq. dm).

Figure 4. Ersari carpet 2.04 x 2.08m Private Collection, Germany. After Loges, Turkoman Tribal Rugs, 1980, plate 80

Thus, only one feature in the construction of the Berlin carpet offers clear guidance. Attribution to the Saryk is strongly supported by the fact that the carpet is woven in the symmetric (Gordes) knot. As far as I am aware, all main carpets attributable to the Saryk, for which the structure has been recorded, have the symmetric and all those woven by the Ersari the asymmetric knot.

Saryk Main Carpet Fragment, 18-19th century, 1.61m x 2.32m

To hang a Saryk label on the Berlin carpet on the basis of a single distinguishing feature is hardly satisfactory, but it is the best available in the context of the incomplete jigsaw to which we liken our knowledge of the history of early Turkmen carpets. At the same time, the many features in which the Berlin carpet closely resembles a type of Ersari carpet, help to confirm that the gulli gol, like the temirjin gol, was a primary carpet ornament in the middle Amu Darya region, where it was used not only by the Ersari but also by the Saryk before the latter moved westward to Merv in the early 19th century.

Copyright 1991, Robert Pinner Reproduced here with permission from Robert Pinner. With thanks to Jens Kröger for permission to reproduce the image of the Saryk carpet fragment from Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Museum für Islamische Kunst