Home > Flatweaves >All Saf Were Not Created Equal
Wed, Sep 6th, 2017 06:46:02 AM
Topic: All Saf Were Not Created Equal

Detail Anatolian saf, Classic period; Cassin collection; published Image Idol Symbol: Ancient Anatolian Kelim 1989, Plate 6

Even a cursory study of Near Eastern carpets, flatweaves and textiles reveals iconography, ie design, is the least reliable evidence to use as provenance or to date a woven object.

Just because to a greater or lesser degree two, or more, weavings share the same design has little to no bearing on any relationship they might share besides visual.

Other criteria such as coloration, derived from various dyes-stuff and mordants; small but nonetheless quantifiable differences in wool quality; structural and technical differences, including yarn spin and ply, are far more viable factors to support any type of worthwhile opinion.

This is inarguable, but like many other seemingly immutable laws in carpet research it is unfortunately ignored by those who would prefer to gloss over such facts because they stand in the way of grand unsupportable theories they prefer to pass off as gospel and fact.

Recognizing the amount of flawed, often circular, logic that underlies carpet studies today is rare, the vast silent majority of readers either too stuptified or stupid to know it and those who do know wont rock the boats of their colleagues. Often so their boats will also not get rocked by similar peer critique and criticism.

Frankly, RK has given up expecting anything will change in our lifetime. We have already seen so much nonsense glorified as research and expertise we know until there is a complete clean-out and genuine peer review and self-governance is instituted nothing will dislodge the vast amount of fiction from fact in this discipline.

But back to the title of this article, which refers to an all too common fallacy: If two weaving look alike, they are alike and were created equally.

We completely disagree and unlike others never assume weavings that look alike are alike.

In this paper we are specifically speaking about a group of by now well-known and easily recognized Anatolian kelim saf, those with white background and at least three or more distinctive architectural derived mirhab.

This in our estimation is the earliest, archetypal, example that set the model for all the others:

Collection Islamische Museum, Berlin Germany; Inv. No.I 3088; 153 x 395cm, 50 x 141 first published in black and white in Kelim authored by Yanni Petsopolous

RK has memorialized the story how we first became aware of it and our soon thereafter visit in 1981 to East Berlin and the Pergamon Museum, as it was then called, to examine the saf in person.

An appointment with Volkmar Enderline, who was then carpet department curator, was arranged for us and on arrival Enderline graciously made the saf available for us to examine in his private office in the museum. We will never forget the experience, as this saf is remarkable and, we are convinced, extremely early.

Positively dating it, or any of the tiny group of ten now identified and published Archaic period Anatolian kelim is impossible, but RK would offer a circa 1400 date for it and the others.

The rare burnt phosphorous red color seen in the border and the rough, scratchy, but springy wool are characteristics the Berlin and no other similar saf except the one in our collection, shown below, share. In fact that color is unknown in any other weaving, flat or pile, we know.

However, their particular type of wool does exist in some of the other Archaic period examples. Someday we hope to scientifically analyze them to establish evidence to support these unproven opinions.

Complete saf, detail published above

We acquired our saf in 1980 and at that time no others of the type, besides the Berlin example, were known. This is a significant point as over the next three decades a number of similar but surely not equal saf with this iconic layout and white background have appeared on the market. Some of them most likely are recent copies and fakes.

While RK has not had the opportunity to handle and examine every last one of them, we can say we have had the chance to examine quite a few, including the Berlin and others illustrated below. And it is on this basis we feel confident in making the following statements about the group.

First, not one of the published or unpublished examples we know date from the Archaic period, like the Berlin example, or even the Classic period, like the one in our collection. None have that burnt phosphorous red, or the very special wool quality they both share. These not so subtle physical differences are strong evidence to support our belief they are respectively the archetype and prototype for all the others.

While some might agree the Berlin saf is the archetype there is considerable disagreement our saf is as early and as important as we claim. The most salient evidence is none of the other similar supposed earlier examples, like two of those shown below, have the complex coloration -- three reds, light pink, light sky blue -- ours displays. Also none have the wool quality it and the Berlin saf share.

Visually the same goes for its light and airy appearance, or the archetype's stark and monumental look. All those pictured below, as well as any others we know, fail to successfully produced either appearance. In comparison they are monotonous, two-dimensional attempts due to their lack of varied and dynamic coloration and stiff, rote design articulation.

These important factors -- coloration, wool quality and design articulation -- are the basis for dating all the others into the post-Classic, late Classic and Traditional periods.

As mentioned a number of self-proclaimed Anatolian kelim pundits and supposed experts do not agree with our assessment. However, besides the fact they have blindly offered no explanation or factual reasons for their theorizing the Berlin saf is not the earliest and our saf is a late copy, the reality none of them have had the opportunity to make hands on examinations of them or any of the others published below sinks their ships before they even leave the dock.

This is typical for carpet studies, where reliance on faulty logic and non-existent documentary evidence becomes accepted as gospel as soon as it is published.

The two most ridiculous and specious positions these kelim-pundits rally round are:
1. The red and blue saf, shown below, from the collection of the deYoung Museum in San Francisco, California, and not the Berlin saf, is the archetype of the group.

Collection deYoung Museum; published Anatolian Kilim: The Caroline and McCoy Jones Collection,Plate 1

While the deYoung safs unique use of only red and blue creates a type of exciting visual psychedelia, the ungainly discrepancy of those thick roof panels and spindly thin sidewalls destroys any faith this saf is earlier than the Berlin or even our saf.

The significant issue of this architectural flaw, and the impossibility the deYoungs saf mimics any realistic version of a construction, overwhelms thoughts it and not the Berlin saf is the earlier and the archetype.

2. The equally as easily refutable position our saf is an inferior late 19th century example.

Lets examine these defective, biased and presumptive positions.

There can be little doubt the mirhab niche on all these saf is derived from architectural representation and, as such, the Berlin safs version could in theory be used as a blueprint for an actual construction. Same goes for our saf.

Notice: The both have two heavy sloped roof panels joined at a high point on and to thick heavy sidewalls, which have the necessary structural integrity to support them.

These are two subtle but significant points, as the roof panels on all the other saf shown below, and all the others we know including the deYoung red and blue one, are joined at a point lower down on the sidewalls. Some like the deYoung saf also have structurally incorrect far too thin sidewalls.

This difference, like the absence of the burnt phosphorous color (or the multi-color palette of ours), is a significant marker we believe can be used to determine a safs relative place in this groups art historical continuum the higher the roof panels are joined to the sidewalls the earlier the saf. And the presence of the burnt phosphorous color another sign of significant age.

The deYoung red and blue saf is clearly quite old. But because of the relative lower place the roof panels join the sidewalls, the fact they are far too thin and narrow to support them, and the absence of the phosphorous burnt red color, it is impossible to believe it could predate the Berlin, or even our saf.

While it is obvious our saf does not have the monumentalism the Berlin saf demands a viewer acknowledge, it does not try to replicate this. But the deYoungs saf does and its attempt fails. We explain why below.

Never doubt monumentalism is a characteristic all the earliest and greatest Anatolian village weavings possess and beyond any doubt successfully articulate.

Unlike our safs airy, light, lively interpretation of the white ground format the deYoungs has a stiff, somewhat clunky and clodish appearance that neither creates monumentalism, its obvious intent, nor the approachable and affable aura of ours. It appears too heavy and lacks the necessary quality of depth perception.

This is primarily due to a design quirk, the insertion of an inverted blue T in the base of each mirhab niche.

Detail inverted T from the base of the deYoung red and blue saf

Actually this is not a unique as the Berlin, our saf and the others we illustrate all are basically no different. What is different is the greatly added emphasis, no doubt done by the deYoung safs weaver to try and artifically add gravitas.

But this added emphasis does not succeed in producing the aura of monumentalismm it was intended to create. Rather it makes an already weak design far too bottom heavy, where thickening the sidewalls would have been a far better visual ploy.

For that and other reasons above we have always considered the deYoung saf a later weaving and placed it in third position on the groups continuum.

And all the other white ground saf known to us, like the few published below, also display unnecessary and debilitating design differences besides coloration and wool quality. These relegate them even lower on the continuum, and demonstrate they are less effective at reproducing the proscribed format, or achieve being perceived as beautiful.

That art historical contiuum begins chronologically with the Archaic period Berlin saf then ours, the earliest example from the Classic period.

Next would be these two from the late Classic period, both of which we years ago had the opportunity to make a hands on examination when we found them to be almost carbon copies. Their only difference is the use of a dark red in the Goddess from Anatolia saf not present in the other. By the way, this dark red is in no way the same dye as the burnt phosphorous found in the Berlin and our saf, though the weaver apparently used it as a simulation.

Late Classic period saf; published Goddess from Anatolia; pg. 91, plate 15

Late Classic period saf, formerly in a California Collection in the late 1980s, present whereabouts unknown

These two saf, and a number of equally less successful attempts, try to recreate the Berlin safs stark monumentalism. But the proportions of the niche mirhab roof panel sidewalls and bases, along with the less effective use of feathering in the borders, presents other weaknesses and design flaws. Also their wool quality is far different than the Berlin and our saf.

But the two isolated columns between the niche mirhabs and the border are their most problematic design anomaly.

After many years of study we sincerely believe the blue and red parmarkli, aka finger, rhombs placed between the niche mirhabs, as well as between the outer ones and the border, were seemingly first introduced by the weaver of our saf and are the prototype for these out of place, static, columns.

In any event even if they were not, these red and blue parmarkli rhomb add to the lively, active and original interpretation of the saf format, while the columns do nothing to add to the psuedo-monumentalism of these saf, and others with these columns.

Here are two more somewhat later examples.

Early Traditional period saf, deYoung Museum Collection, published in Kilim, plate 94

Traditional period saf; present whereabouts unknown.

These six examples set-up an easily defined continuum tracing the adulteration but not obliteration this iconic saf format experienced. The final, end of the line, last genuine versions, like the one just above, dating from the late Traditional period still quite remarkably accurately echo many of the features of the Archaic period archetype.

However, this art historical comparison vividly demonstrates though the format remained a basic template there was substantial and progressive design degeneration and palpable overall loss of integrity. The time period involved is actually unknown but apparently was substantial, a reasonable estimate being 300-400 years.

While much of the evidence supporting this continuum is subjective it nevertheless leads to two logical conclusions. The earlier the saf the more architecturally sound its niche mirhabs appear, and second the more unique the coloration the earlier as well.

Long ago RK introduced the concept a proprietary historic weaving culture once existed in Anatolia (also there were others in other areas of the Near East) that basically controlled a weavers actions by proscribing what iconography was to be woven and exactly how that iconography was to be executed.

Along with this idea during what we call the Archaic period very few examples, maybe even only one, of each type of weaving were produced. But in the succeeding three period -- Classic, Traditiona, and Commercial there was a progressive increase in numbers and a considerable lessening and decrease of the proscriptive power the weaving culture was able to maintain.

There is another related corollary of this theory that needs mention: The difference between weavings made for domestic use/consumption and those made for non-secular, spiritual or cult purposes.

RK introduced and discussed this issue in our Anatolian Opus, and while it is simple to see any one of these white saf being used for prayer we find it incredibly difficult to see someone using such an intensely and hot colored saf like the deYoungs for this purpose.

Contemporary fieldwork in Anatolia has shown certain types and sizes of kelim were, and still are, used as wall-coverings to hide house-wall niches where important and valuable objects are stored.

Perhaps this was the function for some of these saf, and maybe this was the use the deYoung saf was intended, and did at one time fulfill. One thing is sure its wear pattern is not exactly what would be expected on a kelim multiple people ever used for prayer.

Also, there is a much larger issue than is the Berlin or the deYoung saf the earlier and/or the groups archetype? Or is our saf earlier than any of the other similar ones? It is: Will it eventually be possible to substantiate answers to these questions through intensive dye and fiber analysis?

For now only this type continuum built on art historical evidence and comparsion remains the only available methodology.

One additional issue we cannot accept is the idea advanced by some alleged Anatolian kelim experts all the white field saf, including ours and the Berlin, were produced in the small village of Ayranci, located in the southern central district of the Anatolian plateau known as Karaman.

Frankly, we find this a very fanciful notion, and while we are sure several later examples of these saf were discovered in the village mosque around twenty-five years ago this does not mean all the others, particularly the Berlin and ours that are totally unlike the majority of others, were woven there or even anywhere near by.

It is obvious their materials -- dyes and wool -- are completely unlike any of the other white field saf, and this more than anything negates this punditory assertion.

As far as the deYoungs saf and its obvious coloration and iconographic differences? Again, we cannot credence any idea it is earlier than the Berlin saf, or even ours. Since we first saw it in the drawing-room of a flat in north-central London in the early 1980s we have felt it is garish, though striking, and visually uninspired compared to the quiet elegance and monumental look of the Berlin saf.

Since then many decades have passed and this is still our opinion. It is an arresting weaving, but its flash-bulb pop cannot replace a distinct lack of soulfulness and piety the Berlin saf so convincingly generates.

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