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x0x Turkish Carpet
By NAZAN OLCER
Carpets constitute a branch of art that has been
synonymous with the name of the Turks for centuries.
Travel accounts and documents attest to the beautiful
and valuable carpets woven in Seljuk Anatolia, and the
carpet was an important Anatolian export in the period
of Principalities that followed.
The Ottomans, who inherited the art of the carpet as a
legacy, raised it to even greater heights. Examples of
carpets from the Seljuk and Ottoman periods right up to
the present day are exhibited at the Museum of Turkish
and Islamic Art, which has the world's richest
THE SELJUK TRADITION
Carpet-making is believed to have started as a nomadic
art. Knotted carpets, the oldest examples of which were
found in a region heavily populated by nomadic tribes,
in other words west and Central Asia, were spread on
the ground for protection again severe climatic
Their invention was motivated by the need for something
to replace the animal skins that constituted the
backbone of the nomadic economy.
The ready availability of wool, the basic stuff of the
carpet, and the easy assembly and dismantling of the
horizontal and vertical looms used for weaving as well
as versatility and portability of the product closely
link the origins of the art of the carpet to the
Turkish tribes played a major role in bringing this art
to the West in the great westward waves of migration
out of Central Asia.
The art of the carpet underwent a major development in
Seljuk Anatolia, making carpets an intensively traded
Many travellers who passed through the Seljuk lands
beginning in the 12th century mention the
extraordinarily beautiful carpets woven there.
Like many other arts, the Ottomans took over the art of
the carpet from the Seljuk tradition. The group of
Seljuk carpets dating back to the 13th century and
known as `Konya Carpets' for the area in which they
were found has a special place in the history of
carpets and constitutes the best known group after the
Pazirik carpet, the oldest known example of a knotted
carpet, which was found in a fortress in the Altay
Mountains and dates to the 4th-5th century B.C., and
the findings from and, finally, the Turfan findings,
again in East Turkestan, dating from the 5th-6th
century A.D. Some of these carpets are in Istanbul's
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art today.
With their striking reds and dark blues, these carpets
exhibit geometric shapes and, on their borders, Kufic
OTTOMAN CARPETS IN PAINTINGS
Stylized animal motifs and the mythical creatures we
know from other branches of art are found on the
carpets produced in the major weaving centers of 15th
century Western Anatolia.
Due to increasing stylization, however, they have
become almost unrecognizable. The Kufic letters used as
border decorations on Seljuk carpets, for example,
diminished in size in the 15th century, eventually
giving way entirely to geometric forms.
Although Ottoman carpets are known to have been
exported in large quantities, on account of their high
prices they were purchased in the West only by the
palace and its circle and the newly emerging class of
On account of their prestige value, they were also a
popular decorative element in western painting in
portraits as well as depictions of religious subjects.
Certain types of Ottoman carpets are therefore known by
the names of the western artists who frequently painted
The general composition that predominates in these
carpets, known in the literature as `Holbein',
`Crivelli', `Memling' and `Bellini', is that of a field
covered with geometric shapes such as squares or
octagons of various sizes.
THE GIANT CARPETS OF USAK
Although Ottoman carpet production was concentrated in
several different regions, the most important center
was at Usak with its colossal looms. Bergama was a
Meanwhile Konya, the leading city for Seljuk art,
always maintained its importance in carpet production.
The classical period of the Ottoman carpet commences in
the 16th century. The small prayer rugs and giant
carpets woven in workshops there from a repertoire of
designs developed by palace artists have an important
place among the furnishings of the period's great
mosques, palaces and stately mansions.
The best known types of Usak carpets are the
`medallion' carpets inspired by the art of bookbinding,
the `star' carpets with their geometric designs, and
the `bird' carpets so-called for their foliate
compositions reminiscent of bird shapes. With some
variations in size and composition, such carpets were
produced to the end of the 17th century.
With the conquest of Cairo in 1512, Ottoman art
underwent a transformation. A new type of carpet
emerged, recalling the MamlUk carpets in pastel colors
woven of extremely soft wool and, dismissing the
compositions predominant to that time, incorporating
vegetal forms scattered over the entire field.
The prayer rugs among these carpets, which came to be
known as `Palace carpets', are striking for their small
medallions and large foliate compositions.
Palace carpets are thought to have been made in
Istanbul and Bursa. The subsequent rise of centers like
Konya, Ladik, Gordes, Kula and Mucur in the 17th and
18th centuries did not hamper production at Usak.
Meanwhile carpets known as `Izmir' or `Smyrna carpets'
took their name from the port in the west from which
they were shipped up to the 19th century. Nineteenth
century western taste and the houses and palaces
furnished under European influence naturally triggered
a transformation in the art of the carpet as well.
Workshops were established like that at Hereke, where
carpets that copied the compositions of Persian rugs
were woven with the Iranian `Sine' knot which allowed a
finer and denser weave, replacing the typical Turkish
technique known as the Gordes knot, and at Feshane in
Istanbul, where large-size carpets of Baroque design
The Istanbul-Kumkapi carpets known for their high
quality silk prayer rugs also stand out in this late
period carpet production.
The art of the Turkish carpet was widespread outside
these centers as well, with the production of carpets
as a folk art, known by the name of the locale in which
they were woven.