Several weeks ago RK published, in the Textile Topic Area of the discussion board, a short piece entitled Some Conjecture.
Our faithful readers understand RK believes stretching the perimeters, sometimes almost to the point of breaking, can and does provide valuable insight into the deep, dark and virtually unexplored chasm the long history of weaving in the Near East has dug.
What is essential is separating, and doing it clearly, conjecture from fact, something we are very careful to uphold.
Today we saw a small, horizontal patterned, soumak weaving advertised for sale on the internet:
Spoon bag, so called by the seller; soumak technique; 19th century
Whether or not it is a spoon bag, or was destined for use in some other context, is immaterial in the grand scheme of things.
However, there is something here that is far more salient than how it was used.
The seller also opined it was mid-19th century and possibly even earlier. Again, if it is 1860, 1850, 1840 or 1830 is moot. Fact is, based on the sellers decent knowledge and ability to recognize age, RK thinks only a fool would argue that it is either later or earlier than the dates above.
So, you might ask: Where is this discussion going?
As our faithful readership also knows RK knows certain valuable conclusions can be drawn from expertly constructed art historical analysis, especially when that analysis constructs a continuum showing a good number of examples of different quality and age.
In making such a continuum, starting with what is considered the earliest or best example and then adding others according to their perceived lesser quality and age -- heres that good, better, best exercise-- a time line is created.
And this time line then shows the relative age of each example in that continuum.
Fortunately there are examples that can be more accurately dated because they contain synthetic dyes with known production dates, though this only gives a terminus ante quo.
The spoon-bags iconography is easy to understand.
It actually contains only one icon, an icon which in fact can be shown to be copied from the main border of several types of soumak khorjin some of which would place later on a continuum than it, and others which definitely are earlier.
We doubt anyone would try and disagree with this methodology.
Here are two soumak khorjin with that main border. Both are seriously earlier.
Archetype soumak khorjin; RK collection; published Kelim Soumak Carpet and Cloth: Classic Weaving of the Caucasus, 1990; and Weaving Art Museum online exhibition Soumak and Kelim Weaving of the Caucasus,
Prototype soumak khorjin; RK collection; published Kelim Soumak Carpet and Cloth Classic Weaving of the Caucasus, 1990; and Weaving Art Museum online exhibition Soumak and Kelim Weaving of the Caucasus,
Heres a detail from the spoon bag, compare it with their earlier versions.
The upper khorjin, we believe, is the archetype both for the this type, so-called cross soumak khorjin, and for the main border.
The khorjin below it, also from an early and exceptional sumak khorjin, displays what we would call a transitional version of that border icon.
We believe this khorjin is not an archetype, but rather a prototype, somewhat later in time and surely much more derivative in field design than the one above it.
The octagon medallions projections source no doubt the famous Holbein medallion.
So lets close the circle here and approach the main reason for this article.
If, in fact, the spoon-bag is circa 1850/60 or earlier (we doubt it but it is remotely possible), how old then does that make our two khorjin?
The spoon bags version is compressed vertically, its drawing compared to the earlier versions flaccid and rote. Its coloration monochromatic and simple.
This is to be expected in later 19th century weaving.
The other two khorjin do not exhibit any compression, vertically or horizontally.
Their coloration far more varied and complex.
How many weaving generations (a weaving generation can be thought to be 25 years) between the spoon-bag and the archetype and prototype khorjin whose border it shares?
Wed venture based on the degeneration that motif has undergone at least 2,3 or more between it and the prototype octagon medallion soumak bag.
How many between that khorjin and the archetype? Wed say at least 1, though wed believe 2 or 3 is more likely based on their differences.
There are many subtle characteristics at work here, and by carefully inspecting and comparing their three versions we believe no one could successfully deny the spoon-bag is their distant grand-child.
Heres a detail of the archetype where the excellence of coloration, weave and drawing are more readily apparent than the full view.
Detail, Archetype soumak khorjin illustrated above
RK thinks this brief comparative analysis proves there are soumak bags pre-dating 1800, which fits perfectly with the story the seller told us when we acquired that khorjin in 1980.
It came from the descendants of a Newport R.I. clipper ship captain who died in 1807 at the ripe old age of 78, and whose family did not acquire any antiques or artworks after his death.
That means the khorjin came to USA at the turn of the 18th/19th century or before, which segues perfectly with this analysis.
To close, we have long believed many rugs, flat-weaves and textiles are over-dated and in fact are newer than thought today. We also believe the corollary, some few examples are very under-dated.
This exercise, and other similar ones we can produce, goes along way to support such a thought, as well as the probability there are, conservatively, 200 plus year old soumak khorjin extant.