Home > Rug, Kelim, Soumak, Textile Post Archive >Synagogue Rug and the Engsi: Part I
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Sun, Apr 8th, 2007 12:01:26 PM
Topic: Synagogue Rug and the Engsi: Part I

Earlier this year, one of the more active participants in professor clowns internet rug romper room presented one of their lighter than air saloons called:

"Rugs of the Lost Ark"

In this presentation the author, Horst Nitz, speculated some about the famous Synagogue Rug in the Pergamon Museum in East Berlin, Germany.

Here is a b/w photo of the rug and a color detail:

Nitzs saloon started off with an accurate description of the rug gleaned from other authors comments:

One of the most outstanding pieces in this survey (ed. notes: the survey he refers to is Erdmanns Seven Hundred Years of Oriental Carpets) was the so-called Synagogue Rug in the Pergamon Museum in the East, being one of the oldest rugs in existence, being the oldest Spanish rug, dating to the 14th century or earlier and being the one and only known rug with a Torah Shrine motive.

Before it was acquired for the museum by its founder Wilhelm Bode in 1880, it allegedly was kept in a Church in Tyrol/Austria. One wonders how it got there.

Besides wondering how it got there, which is truly not a brain-buster as anyone who knows anything about von Bode realizes he was an extremely active buyer of historic rugs from mosques and other repositories and he quite possibly was clandestinely involved with that move as well, there is another far more interesting issue to muse about.

Well, at least to those who have the knowledge and experience to perceive it -- shame Nitz doesnt.

But this tack is not the one RK wishes to pursue so lets get right down to the meat of the matter.

Nitz continues: The design represents a tree, from which rather thin stem branches spring off on either side, terminating in oversized blossoms, each representing a Torah Shrine.

I quote from the early description by Wilhelm Bode in his Handbook (Bode, W., 1902, Vorderasiatische Knpfteppiche, Leipzig).

These (blossoms) are of a remarkable form. In the centre is a closed door surmounted by a pyramid; on either side is a hook-like leaf, much conventionalised, and angular in its outline; the interior of these figures is filled with a variety of small birds, stars, zigzag lines and similar ornamentation.

The border according to Sarre contains purely decorative Kufic characters meaningless in themselves.In the form of the blossoms growing from the branches of the Tree of Life, Sarre and Flemming perceive a decorative rendering of the Jewish Ark of the Law: The Aron-Ha-Kodesch, or holy shrine, which was (is) affixed to the chief wall of the synagogue, and contained (contains) the Rolls of the Law, enjoyed from remote antiquity the profoundest veneration.

It always has the same form - a rectangular chest with double doors - each with four recessed panels - surmounted by a rectangular gable-end.

The authors support their interpretation by relating the design to similar representations in architecture and decorative arts of the period, as well as to historic predecessors: the decorative marble slabs on the Great Mosque at Cordova (10th c.); a 10th or 11th century capital in the museum in Saragossa; a stucco ornament from the Casa de Mesa in Toledo, 14th or 15th c.; the mosaic pavement of the ancient synagogue at Bet Alfa in Palestine ; on a door-post in the ruins of the synagogue at Tel Hm, the ancient Capernaum; on figured gilt-glasses of the first centuries of our era; a picture of the Ark from a Pentateuch manuscript, presumably Egyptian of the middle of the tenth century, preserved in the State Library at St. Petersburg.

Citing the relationship, as Nitz dutifully did, between the major design of this rug and the Jewish Ark imagery is not bad one but it does severely beg the question where did that design come from or what was it it based upon?

Surely no one, not even rug romper roomates, could possibly believe it just sprang up from nowhere in this fully developed form -- it, too, must have been based on an earlier form.

As frequent readers of RugKazbah.com know, we are very interested, and have done much investigation, concerning the origination and development of certain motif found on historic rugs and other related weavings.

So as far as we can see, presenting the relationship Nitzs saloon focuses on, and which will be further explained below, is rather limited.

But what else to expect from anyone who would waste their time palavering with the rug challenged professor and his band of merry rug posers, fools and know-littles or publishing a paper on their website.

In a nut-shell, Nitz presents the idea the motif from the Synagogue Rug is the source of a much later and degenerate one found on a certain type of mid-19th century Caucasian rug

Nitz informs readers the design on this rug, which he refers to as Tachte has been derived from the Synagogue Rugs main motif.

Lets continue with Nitzs words:

Tachte in Turko-Iranian language means throne, in a semantic as well as in a figural sense.

For instance, Tacht-i-Sulayman (throne of Salomon) is a hill in NW Iran 110 km west of Sandschan and northwest of Bidjar, carrying an excavation site of a once fortified city from the Sassanian and Mongol periods.

The significance of Tachte Shirvan rugs(ed. like the one pictured above) rests in the peculiar large symbol on those rugs, for Doris Eder representing an Avar throne.

While we have no quibble with this idea, nor with the analogy Nitz created, we do believe there are far larger, and more important, parallels that can be discussed.

Once again, citing those requires more knowledge and experience than someone like Nitz, or any of the other clownland participants, could possibly muster and that is the reason we have taken up this discussion where they left off.

The most important design relationship, or parallel, the Synagogue Rug presents is the one that RK sees with Turkmen engsi.

The idea von Bode presents that there is a door contained in the center of this design led us long before Nitz's saloon appeared to conclude this motif bears more than a passing similarity to ones seen on almost all genuinely old engsi.

Were the engsi designs derived from those on the Synagogue Rug; was the relationship reversed; or do they both share a common ancestor?

Clearly, these questions are unanswerable and unknowable but the strong relationship engsi and the Synagogue Rug share isnt so difficult to define.

We intend to discuss this further but have no more time at the moment to continue. However, we do hope interested readers will begin to explore our idea and draw some conclusions on their own.

Stay tuned more to come

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