Home > Rug, Kelim, Soumak, Textile Post Archive >Karapinar: Facts and Myths Parts III & IV
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Mon, Jul 21st, 2003 03:15:50 PM
Topic: Karapinar: Facts and Myths Parts III & IV


The comparison of the Brunk rug with the example from the Textile Gallery emphasizes several key points not the least of which is how rugs of rather pedestrian origins are elevated to heights way beyond their importance. Fransess rug is not a bad thing, nor is it totally bereft of value, its just not 17th century or particularly significant as compared to the great examples of its type.

This is not an opinion and anyone who has read Part IIs brief but telling comparison and cannot recognize this sorely needs to open their eyes to the subtle but quantifiable factors that separate the rare masterpiece weavings from those of lesser qualities.

Michael Franses is, perhaps, the leading dealer of antique Oriental Rugs and supposedly an expert but why then does his description of the Karapinar rug from his inventory present it in a manner that disregards reality? He surely has seen photos of other Karapinars as he references them and while a few of the 30 odd ones he mentions are inferior to his almost all of the rest are superior. My raising this point is rather rhetorical, it appears here to goad Mr Franses into presenting his views on why his expertise of his Karapinar falls so short.

Ok, enough said about Franses and the embellishing description he scribbled about his piece. Lets now look at a few other Karapinars.

The famous Cantoni example in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam might be the best place to start. Here is a photo of it

Before the appearance of the Brunk/Casper example, the Rijksmuseums was considered to be the kingpin of the group. But while its proportions, coloration and drawing can surely not be faulted, a situation, which is not the case with Fransess piece, the Brunk/Casper rugs combination of monumental scale and delicacy of draftsmanship provide what this writer believes, is the prototype. Here are details showing the two medallions side by side that demonstrate the superior articulation and complexity the Brunk carpets weavers were able to actualize. The Brunk example on the left and the Rijksmuseums on the right

The old saying a picture is worth a thousand words is an apt comment for me to make here so lets move on to look at some other Karapinars to see how this design has changed over the centuries. In Part V of this discussion I will explain my feeling about the history of the Brunk/Casper carpet but for now lets concentrate on watching the progressive degeneration the Karapinar design underwent.

In my opinion this next example, from Jacobys Eine Sammlung Orientalischer Teppiche plate 22, is the next best rendition after the Brunk and Cantoni pieces. Unfortunately this B/W photo is the only one I know of that shows the carpet in its entirety. Perhaps Mr. Franses will delve into that famous library of rug books he has been compiling for the past decade and email a color picture of it? Here is the photo of the Jacoby piece:

This piece, like the Cantoni and Fransess and most of the others, is diminutive in size compared to the Brunk example. They are all les than 5 feet by 7 feet while the Brunk/Casper is 20 feet by 7 feet. Bigger is not necessarily better, at least when it comes to Karapinars, but size and great drawing are hard to beat as the North Carolina masterpiece proves without a doubt.

Jacoby dates his piece to 15-16th centuries and attributes it with a ? to the Caucasus. I cannot possibly agree with his dating and would gladly accept a late 17th century guesstimate but I do recognize his thought that this piece might have been made in the greater Caucasus region. What are my reasons for this? Lets look a the color detail Jacoby published along with the B/W. Here it is:

By the way, besides for the frontispiece, this is the only other color photo in the book and because of this we can believe Jacoby not only thought this carpet was particularly important but also that he liked it. So do I.

First compare this medallion to the Cantonis and the Brunks. What differences do you see and what similarities? The most obvious is the Jacobys weavers attempt to recreate the delicate layers of tracery surrounding the Brunk four lobed medallion and the absence of it in the Cantoni. However, that said recognize this attempt, which appears both within the medallion proper and surrounding it retains little of the style and grace of Brunks and somewhat distracts from the medallions importance and position as the major element. Frankly, I prefer the Cantoni weavers decision to forgo trying to recreate it and instead realizing it was beyond her scope and skill. The four large tulips and simple but effective combination of simple geometry permits both the floral motifs within the medallion as well as the crenellated outer edge of it to retain a power and majesty that can favorably compare with that expressed by its prototype. As is often the case, the accretion often associated with degeneration of design, as shown by the Jacoby piece, doesnt really succeed and the old saying less is more definitely rings true here.

Besides this there are a number of other factors I could cite to support not only the Brunk piece pre-eminence but the superiority of the Cantoni example as compared to Jacobys s well.

Lets leave this issue aside and look a bit further at the Jacoby piece, which by the way is no slouch and so far is the best of the rest of this Karapinar design group. Check out the main border. It is truly wonderful and while it cannot in any way compare to Brunks or the Cantoni, it is still an impressive feat of design and weaving. Here we have a new and exciting combination of forms some of the curvilinear floral stems and sprig from the Brunk/Cantoni pieces, as well as cartouches and animal forms. The rather blocky rectangles have scalloped edges that remind me of both their crenellated medallions as well as the cartouches on Transylvanian rugs, but, it is the abstract but recognizable animal forms between them that catch my eye and make this border come alive. Are those animals dragons and are they part of the Dragon Rug iconography? While a question like this has no definitive answer it does highlight a connection and goes some distance into support but Jacobys and my own feelings this carpet has connections to the Caucasus. Also, the coloration of it has a certain je ne sais quo connection to the bold and in your face style of early weaving made in the Caucasus rather than the somewhat more subtle and calmer way colors are handled in early Turkish rugs. Another piece of the puzzle pointing to a Caucasian origination are the trefoils in the two minor borders, as no early Turkish rugs exhibit this convention.

One of the major obstacles in trying to provenance any of these rugs is the lack of structural and technical details and until such a dossier is complied I recognize the liabilities my writing on this subject entail. However, I am fairly certain what is written here will not be proven inaccurate in light of that informations compilation.

So enough for today. Stay tuned for Part IV when several other Karapinars of lesser pedigree, like the Franses piece, will be pictured and discussed to flesh out the Karapinar design group that the Brunk/Cantoni and Jacoby examples so wonderfully define.


After reading the preceding parts of this discussion it should be clear Karapinar is not really a descriptive term useful for anything other than describing a design-type. The rugs that share this pattern are very different in both structure and coloration and this precludes any possibilities of their sharing similar production locations or for that matter genuine cultural affinity. I have no doubts the Brunk/Casper piece is the prototype, or archetype if you will, of this group and in the next and final part of this discussion, Part V, some thoughts on its sources will be presented.

Lets now compare six Karapinars that illustrate how the progressive changes, i.e. degeneration, of this the design occurred. This exercise emphasizes the brilliant conception the weavers of the Brunk example were able to achieve. It also demonstrates the difficulty succeeding generations of weavers had in capturing the inspiration responsible for its creation, as well as the introduction of alien motifs and symbols these later weavers utilized and relied on to express what they could not duplicate.

On the first line of photos, a side-by-side comparison of Brunk/Casper rug and the Rijksmuseums example cant help but demonstrate the mastery the unsung weavers of the Brunk piece were able to actualize. And while the Cantoni is no slouch, its lack of the complex treatment both within the medallion and surrounding it make it appear somewhat two-dimensional. This perception is also fostered by the limited but intense color palette its creators employed and this factor - color - more than any other supports the reality that these two rugs have nothing whatsoever to do with each other besides for the similarities of design they share. Plus the Brunk carpets monumental scale implies it was made in a highly sophisticated urban atelier environment rather than the probably far more humble village setting that gave birth to the Cantoni.

I have seen both rugs in the flesh and while I was not able to compile detailed structural analyses, I can positively state these two rugs have no technical aspects in common other than sharing a woolen foundation and knotted pile.

The next line of photos shows what this writer feels is the next incarnation of the Karapinar design form:

On the left, the best of these, the example from the Jacoby book, appears. Here the aforementioned attempt to re-create the complex system of pattern surrounding the Brunk medallions separates it from the other three. But this is not the only feature to support the assessment it is better than the others, as the highly inventive design of the main border combined with its far superior coloration and number of colors place it head and shoulders above the others to its right. I should mention here that if this weaving and the Cantoni were exhibited side-by-side there would surely be some rug fanciers who would prefer it for those two very reasons. But in fact this cannot really be considered correct. Although it has more colors and that intriguing border both of which give it a more exciting look the brutish power of the Cantoni - that is derived from its amazing use of proportion and perspective, accentuated by the deeply saturated colors and their simple but highly effective utilization combine to disprove any such thought.

The visual punch the Cantoni delivers was no accident and the weaver who made it knew it was impossible to reproduce the complex articulation of the Brunk/Casper rug so instead of tying to copy or duplicate it, an original and extremely potent interpretation was produced.

Is the Cantoni as good as the Brunk piece? No, it isnt but in its own right and for the reasons just expressed, and others that I have not bother to mention, it must be recognized as a highly important Turkish rug and an influential feat of knotted pile weaving.

To its right another weaver of the so-called Karapinar-design, which by the way was recently sold at auction in Germany for almost 100,000 dollars, produced what this writer can only describe as a two-dimensional copy of the medallion and corner-piece arrangement we are calling Karapinar. As weak and ineffective as it is, it is still nonetheless better and more skillful in all respects than the weaver of the Franses Textile Gallery rug was able to muster. There we see only a blatant copy of the features that distinguish the Karapinar design group, as expressed by the rugs to its left and those pictured above it.

Perhaps its most redeeming aspect is the main border but when that is compared with the Cantonis undoubtedly its source its jumble of designs that at first appear interesting are, on further inspection, actually only a confused attempt to capture what the long dead weaver of the Cantoni was able to create.

Again, the Textile Galleries piece is not terrible but when compared to the two others of its period, it falls far short and even more so when viewed in light of the two pictured above it.

The next line of photos demonstrate what can be considered the next manifestations of the Karapinar design group:

Frankly the example on the left is superior to the Franses rug but, because it is less classical in its depiction of the Karapinar- design, I have placed it here below the Franses piece only for this reason and none other. I would prefer to own this long four-medallion rug to Franses's any day because here this weaver was inspired, not just copying. And while this rug is no real champion compared to those that are like the Cantoni and Brunk/Casper - it is onje when it is considered alongside the example to its right, the Textile Gallery's and the all the others of its period.

The medallions are not complex but they are honest. They embody and capture the proportions of the Brunk rug and the lifting of the large tulips featured in the medallion of the Cantoni and their placement on the medallions dark ground successfully produces a medallion with both grace and power. This might seem simple but it is both a difficult and rarely successfully executed combination, as the Franses rug and others not pictured here well proves.

The gold-orange field color contrasts extremely well with the dark ground medallions and the sparse field decoration is both tasteful and in perfect balance with and to those medallions. The four baby-blue corner-pieces, interesting minor border and wide trifoliate major border all blend perfectly together to produce a magnificent achievement of later central Turkish village weaving. I like it.

I dont like the rug to its right. Why?

Simply put, this weaving is a flaccid imitation of the Karapinar design. It is miserably inferior to every other example we have examined so far in this discussion. The medallions look impressive but that is due only to their having white grounds, a trick later weavers often resort to in their effort to catch the eye of the viewer. The sloppily conceived and executed blue pattern that surrounds them is even more insipid and meaningless and oh those contrived half-medallions that poke their way into the field from the side-borders, ugh!

But all these pale in comparison to the border. What was this weaver thinking, or rather what was the weaver not thinking. Words cannot do justice to the lack of inspiration, genuine knowledge and familiarity with the Karapinar-design, or weaving expertise that produced this rug. It is a poster-boy for the worst of Turkish pile weaving. Let me stop there, nuff said about this waster of wool.

I cant honestly say I would prefer to own the example illustrated by itself on the last line of photos rather than the one just discussed, but almost.

Here we have the final recognizable incarnation of the Karapinar-design and as weavings of this period interest me not, I dont feel like enumerating the obvious defincies it displays.

So thats it for Part IV. Tune in for Part V and the conclusion of Karapinar: Facts and Myths.

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