An Anatolian engsi?
West Anatolian checkered Zili (#1), 51in x 81 in; 18th century; unpublished; RK collection
Oriental carpet studies, like astronomy and archaeology, is far from exact science. There are some facts, but much more probabilities and possibilities. Frankly, its all about how possible and how high the probability.
Dye studies, fiber and structural analysis are three areas of historical carpet research where real, hard facts do exist. They provide some solid underlying layer; however such information does not, and cannot, answer/address most of the serious and interesting questions historical carpets and flatweaves present to researchers and motivated collectors.
Over the past few decades RK has published numerous research papers with new ideas based on strong possibilities and high probabilities. Our research and conclusions go further than just opinions or guesses, and although we have shot arrows in the dark those arrows have been aimed identifiable targets. We have also always provided documentation to support our contentions, and while that documentation can never be considered exact sciencific fact, it has been high on probability and even higher possibility.
With this as preface the following research paper will consider the Zili illustrated above an Anatolian engsi, both made for and once used in that context.
It belongs to a small group of similar flatweaves that can be separated into two types solely on size, as their iconography is quite similar and equally limited.
RK has about a half dozen pictures of examples of each type, ones that are at least pre-1870, most we believe earlier. We also know an rqual number of post-1870 eamples, which also share the same iconography. However, these clearly demonstrate effects of design degeneration and degradation and, therefore, provide little reason for inclusion in this study.
Regardless of exactly how old any of them are they are rare Anatolian flatweaves, the best of which have considerable merit and significance.
Undoubtedly they were produced by a very small number of weavers related through a shared historic weaving culture and iconography but apparently not the same geographic location.
The fact they were woven over a time period of at least 150 years in such small numbers implies only a few clan/families living in different locations produced them over a number of generations. This is typical for other types of rare Anatolian village weavings.
The idea Zili #1 could be an engsi might surprise readers but RK trusts the analysis below will be convincing enough to quell any doubts.
The Zili above is by far the earliest type 1. These are relatively small size, more square than the type 2 which are larger and rectangular. Both types have a number of design elements found on Turkmen engsi. That is if you know where to look, as some are hidden, embedded within their design.
The engsi, as well as pile woven tentbands, are the most complex and complicated type of Turkmen weavings, and often among the earliest. We have seen, and own, examples that are at least 17th century, and likely 16th.
There is no doubt they, and some other rare Turkmen woven products, are as ancient as any Anatolian weavings, however, far fewer exist. This is due to a number of factor, primarily the lack of preservation in holy mosque that occurred in Anatolia. Also quite probably their lifestyle and culture did not encourage much production of non-secular -- cult -- weavings, ie ones with highly charged, complex iconography.
Knowing how the engsi functioned within historic Turkmen society is impossible. So is identifying the meaning these iconic weavings carried. Or where and how they were developed.
But it is possible to identify the small number of icon almost all engsi display, ones that separate them from other types of Turkmen weavings.
First is a physical characteristic: All historic engsi are at least circa 46 inch but not more than circa 60 inch wide; and circa 60 inch but not more than circa 80 inch in length. Basically they are squarish, rectangular weavings one and a half times longer than wide.
We believe it is not circumstantial those are the same dimensions as the type 1 Zili; while the type 2 are notably wider and at least twice as long as they are wide.
Type 2 so-called checkered Zili (#2), 59in x 129 inch; 18th century; Vakiflar Museum collection; published Flatweaves of the Vakiflar, Balpinar/hirsch
The example above shows the typical size and design arrangement of type 2 Zili. Clearly, they do not share the same size/shape ratio as type 1, or Turkmen engsi.
The second is a four-compartment field where an equilateral cross is formed at the center of these compartments. We must note a very small number of engsi, particularly S-group and a few Kizil Ayak examples, have smaller upper boxes and larger lower ones. But these are far from the norm or any significant number when engsi of all groups are considered.
A third criteria, though not so obvious because it is embedded in very center of the Zili #1 four compartment field, is the presence of the typical engsi synak (border) icon.
Large synak icon embedded in the field of Zili #1
Careful examination shows there are other synak icon as well.
Synak icon embedded in the left and right side of each of the large stars in the field of Zili #1
Below is a typical synak icon found on the borders of almost all engsi. Again, there are a few rare engsi types that lack it.
The fourth feature is the two-panel elem found on the lowest part of Turkmen engsi. Most utilize the same field color for it, as does Zili #1. Although, again, rare instances exist where one or both elem panel are a different color.
Detail lower elem panel from a symmetric knotted Turkmen engsi 17th century or before; unpublished
Often, like this archaic engsi, both elem have the same design, so does Zili #1.
Lower portion of Zili #1 where two white stripes separate two identical elem panels, each decoraated with various small brightly colored ornaments.
The fifth and last criteria that iconographically connect Zili #1 and Turkmen engsi is a row of boxes directly above the field and upper border.
Detail of boxes above field and upper border Zili #1
This same layout can be seen on some rare types of engsi.
Detail row of boxes above the field and upper border from a rare Kizil Ayak engsi 18th century; unpublished
Astute RugKazbah.com readers will remember RKs set theory, which basically states if two seemingly unrelated weavings share three or more significant design features they should be considered related.
We are using this for our idea Zili #1 and Turkmen engsi are related.
This is not the place to open the can of worms surrounding just exactly how engsi were used prior to the end of the 19th century, a time when ample proof they were purely secular weavings hung in yurt doorways exists.
RK is long on record discounting this idea for considerably earlier examples, mainly because these engsi display such varied and complex icoography that most likely had socio/ magical/religious connotation. No culture we have ever heard or read about put their most sacred icons and symbols on purely secular, common-place, objects. Neither did the Turkmen with their ancient engsi, or Anatolian weavers of early village rugs.
It is well-known the Turkmen attached special meaning to their woven icons and since the engsi, like the tentband, provides the best and clearest display it seems totally illogical to think engsi were just ordinary door covers. Or these Zili were just ordinary domestic flatweaves.
Another point worth noting is the existence of two very distinct, different, and unrelated cultures in Anatolia post-13th century. One, the earlier, is the indigenous Anatolian; the other the migrant Turkmen. Cut pile and flatweave were produced by both cultures. However, the iconographies their earlest weavings exhibit are completely different.
As time passed a merging of weaving patterns occurred but in general not until after the middle 19th century. Before then weavers had remained tied to their own historical weaving culture thereby preserving most of their proprietary icon.
Weaving like Zilis #1, type 2, and the Turkmen engsi, are prefect examples of this process.
A related discussion to the Anatolian engsi idea is the relationship between type 1 and type 2 Zili.
There are some collectors and dealers who believe type 2 are older than the middle 19th century, and all type 1 are post-1850. They also believe the former are better and more valuable.
This surely appeared to be the case prior to the discovery of Zili #1. Now we believe now a reappraisal is in order and the following points make clear it is as early and significant as any of the type 2.
There is no date or other information about Zili #2 published by Balpinar, besides her suggesting it was woven in " one of the villages which have a common origin and which are all situated in a former yayla (summer pasture) of Obruk (Konya)" She also states it was found "in a 15th century mosque in Ankara, the Mukkadem Mosque".
Why no date was given is curious since many of the other Vakiflar weavings in the book are dated. Regaardless, we agree with the 18th century dating proponents of the type 2Zili have proposed. The most vocal, Michael Bischof, has declared in private conversation with us:
All ZIlis of this context that are really old are big - or fragments from pieces that once were quite big. Never in my life I have seen small pieces of this type which are pre-1850. It is an A-piece. We know first hand where it is from. Whether the group that settled here at that time used black tents of feld yurts I do not know with certaincy as of now.
Obviously, RK does not agree, as our type 1 Zili (#1) is very different in all respects to any the type 1 examples, besides having large 8 pointed stars in the field.
Here is the Zili he is talking about.
type 2 Zili (#3), 68.5 in x 130; 18th century; available; unpublished; photo Michael Bischof KOEK
According to Bischof the large size of the type 2 Zili was because they functioned as a woven tarpaulin to cover household goods and possessions during yearly nomadic migration. The fact, he says, type 1 were too small to do this underlies his belief they cannot be as old.
This is hogwash because door covers could have been produced whether they were hung in a yurt or mud-brick dwelling.
RK has postulated the earliest engsi were not used in domestic dwellings but rather ones belonging to either the group's shaman or its leader. We have no proof but this seems logical because compared to the numbers of the earliest Turkmen main carpets, chuvals, torba, and even tentband, engsi are the rarest and fewest in number.
Frankly, this can hardly be circumstantial. It is undoubtedly the result of the earliest engsi functioning as a part of the still very much unknown religious/spiritual aspects of historic Turkmen life and lifestyle.
While our photos of the three illustrated Zili are poor quality -- something we cannot do anything about and regret -- they are good enough for our purposes here, particularly since we have handled Zili #1 and Bischof Zili #2.
According to Balpinar Zili #2 has a balanced plain weave ground and contour zili embroidered supplemental weft. Basically this means a ground cloth where the warp and weft threads are of equal size and number the same per inch. The balanced plain weave wefts are the structural weft, with the supplemental contour pattern wefts wrapped around every three warps where they appear.
RK has done a hands-on structural analysis of Zili #1, but none is available for Zili #2, and Michael Bischof has not supplied one of Zili #3.
However, he has supplied a picture of the back.
Left: reverse of Zili #3; Right: reverse Zili #1
Comparison of their backs makes abundantly clear these two Zili have exactly the same balanced plain weave ground but very different technique of supplemental Zili embroidered weft.
The contour Zili technique Balpinar describes refers to the weaver first outlining and then filling in each design element. This can be readily seen when looking at the photo of the back of Zili #1, whereas the photo of the back of Zili #3 shows it does not have this technique but rather only partial contouring.
This small but significant difference is one of those convincing RK proponents Zili #3 is earlier and better than Zili #1 are wrong.
Another of the physical differences that imply to us Zili #1 is at least the same age, if not earlier, than Zili #3 is color. Zili # 1 has 9 colors and Zili #3 only 8. However, the number is not as important as the difference in the overall tone, appearance and beauty of the colors.
Zili #1 has a blue/green overall tonality, while all the type 2, including #3, have a reddish/brown one. This is the result of Zili #1 being a western Anatolian weaving, and the type 2 Zili woven in north-central Anatolia.
Were Zili #1 as late as proponents claim it would never have the lavish use of colors like translucent light blue, rich green, vibrant yellow, and pungent purple. Color qualities none of the type 2 seem to have. Were Zili #3 as early as they claim, the weavers would have had such dyes at their disposal. Afterall, there are fabulously colored weavings from north-central Anatolia. Its just that they, and not Zili #3, are significantly older.
The iconographic differences are even more telling.
Left: Zili #3 small 8 pointed stars in major border; Right: Zili #1 small 8 pointed stars in the center of the large 8 pointed stars in the four compartment field
One of the strong probabilities RK relies upon to compare weavings is tracking the way iconography changes over generations, ie.design degeneration.
Rarely does an icon move from the border to the field but rather the opposite, they move from the field to the border. This is undoubtedly what happened here -- the small 8 pointed stars in the center of Zili #1s four large 8 pointed stars became a border design.
Left: small field stars Zili #3; Right: small field stars Zili #1
Another probable sign of design degeneration is Zili #3's embellishment of the synak icon with an extra pair of kotchak (paired hooks) on the left and right of each synak. Not to mention their proliferation in the additional field stripe panels above and below the large 8 pointed field stars in all type 2 Zili.
Detail Zili #3 synak with extra pair of kotchak left and right
We realize the is known as a Turkmen border icon and its appearance on these Zili is in the field.
There are two other design factors that imply Zili #1 is not post-1850.
The first is the use of a rare ancillary icon known as the whirling swastika, which never to the best of our knowledge appears on any post-1700 Anatolian weavings.
Whirling swaktika Zili #1
The second is Zili #1 main border iconography, which is rarely if ever found on post-1800 weavings. This complexity and such skilled execuation never appear on any post-1800 weaving.
Detail major border Zili #1
The whirling swaktika and this main border iconography, unlike the synak icon and other engsi features, are not migratory Turkmen but rather indigenous Anatolian ones.
Left: Aina gol detail S-group torba sold in New England August 2017, unpublished; Right: Aina gol detail Zili #1
Like a number of other Turkmen gol the aina gol appears on the weavings of a number of western Turkmen groups. But it is not seen on any extremely early Turkmen weavings of any type, as well as never appearing on eastern Turkmen group weavings. This implies it is not an ancient icon, nor probably of proprietary significance for any group.
However, we do believe it is worth noting its appearnace in the center of each of the large 8 pointed stars on both type 1 and type 2 Zili.
Zili #'s 1, 2 and 3, regardless of which is the earliest, are all exceptional and rare Anatolian flatweaves. It is unfortunate no additional technical description accompanies the publication of Zili #2. But it is in the museum in Ankara, where it and supposedly another similar example, are stored. So perhaps sometime soon their details can be published.
As always in carpet studies many questions remain unanswered. However, the publication of Zili #1 has called into serious question, and in our opinion negated, the old idea type 2 Zili are earlier than any type 1.
And, at the least for now Zili #1 can be considered the archetype of the type 1 group.