The Turkish Carpet

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An historical abstract

Although the Turkish carpets originate from one of the classical countries of origin of the hand knotting art of carpets, they almost are not noticed in Europe.

This article likes to pay attention to the charming, uncommon carpets from Anatolia and to look into the subject, why it plays only an underpart in the awareness of (not only) the European, but it does not making the claim to be complete.

Scarcely anybody recalls that the European got to know not only coffee, cocoa and chocolate, but also the Oriental carpet by the kingship of the Ottoman Empire, which ranged almost to Vienna.

During his journey to the Far East, which the Venetian Marco Polo started in 1271, he visited the Anatolian towns Como (Konya), Caesarea (Kaysery) and Sebastala (Sivas). Here he got to know the old Turkish carpets, which let him speak about the “best carpets of the world”. These Anatolian carpets established the international reputation of the Oriental carpets.

The oldest carpet being still in our possession is the famous, almost 2,400 years old Pazyryk carpet, which already was knotted with the double Turkish knot and wich is shown in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersbourgh.

The Pazyryk Carpet - DetailA detail of the famous Pazyryk carpet which once owned a Scythian Prince (Picture Source: Wikipedia)

The next fragment of a carpet in the possession of humankind are dated back to the 11th until the 13th century. They were found in mosques of Konya, Beysehir, but also in Turkestan, Mesepotamia and in the Egyptian-Coptic area. They all are knotted with the double Turkish knot and they have to be counted to Anatolia due to their colours and patterns. They were produced in the time of the Seljukian’s kingship. The Seldjuk were a Turkmen tribe of the Oghuz, which during the 9th century settled in the East of the Aral Sea (today Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan). From the 11th until the 13th century they enlarged their kingship across Persia to Anatolia. The carpets of this time show such a high mastership and artistry that we have assume that this art was cultivated long before the Seldjuks, although no one of the carpets outlasted the time to tell us about that.

From the beginning of the 13th century the Ottomans assumed little by little the control over Anatolia and enlarged their kingship step by step over three continents.

Now Anatolian carpets were produced in Royal Manufactures for the Sultan’s and high nobility’s exclusive use. These finest carpets were also used as gifts to establish or rebuild relationships (not only) to European states, to form or to renew alliances, to award kings, princes and members of the high nobility. In this way the European noble houses acquired the Oriental carpets for the first time, which in this time used to be solely Turkish carpets.

By traders in Florence and Genoa these carpets found their way into further European noble houses as outstanding examples of harmony in colours and ornaments. In a little while it was the good style to own at least one Turkish carpet, if not a whole collection. The princes loved to display their carpets on paintings of the 14th until 16th century. The depictions on paintings of Holbein the Younger, Lotto, Hans Memling, Van Eyck, etc. are well known The carpets shown on the pictures of these artists are definitely identified as Anatolian carpets due to their patterns and colours – and the paintings still today serve as a role to classify antique Anatolian carpets of this time.

"The Ambassadors", Holbein 1533

“The Ambassadors” (Holbein, 1533) (Picture Source: Wikipedia)

"The Ambassadors" Holbein 1533_Detail

Detail of the carpet on the table, used like a table-close of the picture “The Ambassadors”, (Holbein, 1533),
(Picture Source: Wikipedia)

After the lost of the Battle of Vienna in 1683 the Turks left behind not only their tents, but also a lot of their wonderful carpets. Thus there were in this time such a lot of Turkish carpets in Europe that also the bourgeois was allowed to own them – if they could pay for them. Due to this occurrence increased the demand on Turkish carpets in Europe. In this time the Turkish carpet used to be the embodiment of the Oriental carpets.

That remained unchanged until the 19th century.

Before we go in the decline of the importance of the Turkish carpet in Europe (and therewith in the world), I will briefly introduce the differences between the even today prevalent Persian (and therewith Pakistani and Indian) Oriental carpets and the Turkish carpets, which renaissance in Europe we may experience latterly.

The Persian carpet differs from the Turkish carpet not only in the almost use of the looser and simpler Persian single (Senneh) knot

Persian Single (Senneh) Knot

The Persian single (Senneh) knot. Copyright: Dania Calderin (all rights reserved)

in contrast to the very durable double Turkish (Gordian) knot,

Turkish double (Gordian) knotThe double Turkish (Gordian) knot (copyright: Dania Calderin – all rights reserved)

but also in the patterns.

In opposite are the nearly strict, geometric and stylised patterns of the Sunni Turks, which are always mirrored along the symmetry axis. The Turks descend from the East Asiatic Turk people and they show their geometric patterns already on the Kilims of the nomadic tribes. Though these patterns due to their symmetry and warm colours appear never cold.

An exception are the Turkish palace carpets of the 19th century, which adopt the Persian patterns, because in this time dominated the “Persian Style” on the Ottoman Court. Due to the capture and kingship in Persia by the Ottomans from the 16th to the end of the 17th century, the Ottomans were in contact with these patterns, adapted parts of them, without loosing their Ottoman characteristic.

Thus the Turkish carpets obtained more gently curving and more naturalistic realisation of the patterns, but the Turkish peculiarity was retained not only by the colours. That’s very nice to see on the patterns of the Sultan Abdulmecid I., who from 1844 let knot the carpets for its palace in Hereke.

Hereke Silk Carpet_Medaillon with Birds of Paradise

Hereke Silk Carpet “Medallion with Birds of Paradise” (copyright of the picture: – all rights reserved)
This pattern once was designed for the palace of the Sultan Abdulmecid I.

In the meantime the British flood the European market with Persian carpets by a large scaled marketing strategy during the World Exhibitions in 1851 in London and in 1873 in Vienna. That led to an increasing demand for Persian carpets and the hitherto dominating Turkish carpets faded away from the awareness of the European. Due to the increasing demand for Persian carpets especially from the ambitious middle classes the English businessman Ziegler, who was of Swiss origin, had the idea to found industrialised carpet manufactures directly in Persia.

The vibe for demand of Persian carpets was more fuelled by the declined prices on the large scaled production. Therefore the wool in Persia was out and had to be imported from Great Britain. This procedure was possible, because in this time a British de facto protectorate about Persia was established (the British dominated the South of Persia during the time of the Ghadjar Dynasty from 1779 – 1924) and there were not any limitation and duties neither for export nor import. That was the beginning of the finally downfall of the Turkish carpets in Europe and the begin of the overbalance of the Persian carpets.

On the colonial dominating of Great Britain under others also about India and Pakistan, the patterns and methods of production were exported in this countries. In this way the Indian and Pakistan carpets came along to the Persian ones. All these carpets – and newly also those from China – are knotted with the single Persian knot and show Persian patterns, which dominated the taste of the European (and the world) for the last 150 years.

Today the Turkish carpet is the carpet of the true connoisseurs and art lovers – and we wish the Turkish carpet the attention in the awareness of the people of our world that it deserves due to its thousands of years of history.


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3 Responses to “The Turkish Carpet”

  1. 2010 in review « Says:

    […] The busiest day of the year was April 14th with 41 views. The most popular post that day was The Turkish Carpet. […]

  2. Bonnie Says:

    I am interisted in the Last Supper Rug, is it for sale?

    • Solveigh Calderin Says:

      Hello Bonnie, not exactly this one, because it is a sample. But you could get a similar one. Please place a qualified request to info(at)hereke-carpets(dot)com including your full name, delivery address and phone number and within a few days you should have an offer.

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