Art & Culture | Honorary TURKISH CONSULATE for MICHIGAN

Honorary Turkish Consulate for Michigan
About Turkey: Art and Culture: Decorative Arts
16th century Ototman miniature detail

Turkish Carpets

Carpets, whether knotted or flat woven (kilim) are among the best known art forms produced by the Turks from time immemorial.There are environmental, sociological, economic, and religious reasons for the widespread art of carpet weaving among the Turkish people from Central Asia to Turkey.

The geographical regions where Turks have lived throughout thecenturies lie in the temperate zone. Temperature fluctuations between day and night, summer and winter may vary greatly. Turks-nomadicor pastoral, agrarian or town-dwellers, living in tents or insumptuous houses in large cities-have protected themselves from the extremes of the cold weather by covering the floors, and sometimes walls and doorways, with carpets. The carpets are always handmade of wool or sometimes cotton, with occasional additions of silk.These carpets are natural barriers against the cold. The flatwoven kilims which are frequently embroidered are used as blankets,curtains, and covers over sofas or as cushion covers.

Southwestern caucasus prayer rug, dated 1827

Southwestern caucasu prayer rug
dated 1827

In general, Turks take their shoes off upon entering a house.Thus, the dust and dirt of the outdoors are not tracked inside.The floor coverings remain clean, and the inhabitants of the house,if need be, can comfortably rest on the floor. In the traditional households, women and girls take up carpet and kilim weaving as a hobby as well as a means of earning money. Even technological advances which promoted factory-made carpets could not hamper the production of rug weaving at cottage-industry level. Although synthetic dyes have been in use for the last 150 years, handmade carpets are still considered far superior to industrial carpeting.

Turkish carpets are among the most sought after household items all over the world. Their rich colors, warm tones, and extraordinary patterns with traditional motifs have contributed to the status that Turkish carpets have maintained since the 13th century. MarcoPolo, who traveled through Anatolia in the late 13th century, commented on the beauty and artistry of the carpets. A number of carpets from this period, known as the Seljuk carpets, were discovered in several mosques in central Anatolia. These were under many layers of subsequently placed carpets. The Seljuk carpetsare today in the museums in Konya and Istanbul. It is very exciting to imagine that we may be looking at the very same carpets that Marco Polo praised in the year 1272.

Turkish carpets in the 15th and 16th centuries are best known through European paintings. For example, in the works of Lotto(15th century Italian painter) and Holbein (16th century Germanpainter), Turkish carpets are seen under the feet of the Virgin Mary, or in secular paintings, on tables. In the 17th century, when the Netherlands became a powerful mercantile country, Turkish carpets graced many Dutch homes. The Dutch painter Vermeer represented Turkish carpets predominantly to indicate the high economic and social status of the persons in his paintings. “Turkey carpets,”as they were known, were too valuable to be put on floors, except under the feet of the Holy Mother and royalty.

A Girl Asleep by Vermeer

A Girl Asleep by Vermeer

Anyone who enters a mosque has to take off his/her shoes. The mosque is the common house of a Muslim community, therefore, shoes are cast off before the door. Moreover, the ritual of prayer requires the faithful to kneel and touch the ground with one's forehead in humility before God. There are no chairs or benches in a mosque—only carpets. A Turkish mosque is often covered “from wall to wall” with several layers of carpets. To deed a carpet to a mosque is an act of piety and many Muslims do so. Prayer carpets that are small enough to be carried easily accompany many Muslim travelers. The Muslim, wherever he or she is, upon determining the direction of the Ka'aba in Mecca, lays down the prayer carpet and through the ritual of prayers communicates directly with God.

The Turkish carpets have exuberant colors, motifs, and patterns.No two carpets are the same; each one is a creation from a new.Because traditionally women have woven the carpets, this is oneart form that is rarely appreciated as being the work of a known or a specific artist. Nevertheless, the Turkish women silently continue to create some of the most stunning examples of works of art to be distributed all over Turkey and the world.

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Hereke Carpets

Hereke carpets which are an inseparable part of our national cultural accumulation are woven in the town of Hereke from where their name is driven and in the Izmit Bay region. Hereke carpets are recognised by this name in the carpets literature and they have an extraordinary place among world carpets.

These carpets which form a special group in our carpet weaving art and which are known by the name of “Palace carpets”, were woven in workshops within the royal palace or belonging to the court during Ottoman period and they were made for the Sultans and their close circles. The court subvened looms the first examples of which we find during the Seljuk period, were established in Usak, Gordes, Cairo, Bursa and Istanbul in 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. The Hereke factory which was installed as a royal plant in accordance with Ottoman industrial policy in 19th century, started to work on textiles, but later carpet weaving took the dominance. These carpets made for the palaces and great mansions, were designed by court artists and made in various workshops. The artisans organised within “Artisan lodges” have reached a unity in styles and motifs. Later carpet designers have created new designs that conformed with royal tastes and authentic Hereke designs and compositions have derived from those.

Although “Palace”, “Yoruk” and “Turkmenian” carpets have the same functional characteristics, they totally differ from each other in their styles. Stylised designs dominate tribal carpets, whereas naturalism is prevalent in Palace rugs due to the technological possibilities which gives way to more complex designs and motifs In our day, Hereke carpets which are the best and finest silk rugs in the world, have gained a great fame because of these characteristics. The standard norm for the number of knots in 1cm2 is 10 × 10 = 100. Since the number of knots in 1 cm2 is considered as the criterion for the fineness of the carpet, they form the standard norm of the kind of carpet in question. In recent years the standard fineness has been developed through technological novelties and has reached the number of 24 × 24 = 576. Carpets with this characteristics, look like magnificent cloths with their fine weaving. All of these work, are the pride of Turkish carpetry and masterpieces of collective workmanship.

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The Silk Prayer Carpet in Mevlana Museum

Mevlana silk prayer carpet

Mevlana silk prayer carpet

Among the masterpieces in Konya Mevlana Museum is a silk prayer carpet which has to be seen, to be appreciated. Many visitors to the museum have heard of its fame before they come; or they say to each other: “Have you seen the carpet with 144 knots to each square centimetre? It's supposed to be the finest woven carpet in the world.”

The silk prayer carpet is well known, and it is one of the most popular works in the Mevlana Museum. Whatever its value may be, those who see it gaze in wonder.

The silk Prayer Carpet is exhibited in a wall case left of the altar niche in the Mescid of Mevlana Museum. It measures 175 by 111 cm. and was woven with wool, silk and silver thread. The colours used are black, red, navy blue and yellow, and the narrow borders are decorated with rumi motifs. Its wide border is decorated with flowers and roses, on each side is written two couplets in Persian. At the top of the carpet is a picture of the Kaabe in Mecca, and the bottom are flowers and hatayi motifs.

That is the description of the prayer carpet. But when, where and by whom was it woven, and how did it get to Mevlana's Tomb? Before answering this it is necessary to look at the poem in Persian written on the carpet: “This prayer carpet was woven with the help of that high being who followed the path of the prophets, carefully completed near the grave of the children of the prophet. It was laid in the place of worship of the exalted shah who is the protector of canonical law, and the shadow of God. This shah is such a prince of religion that he is as great as Alexander and thousands of Alexanders are his subjects and slaves.”

As this poem tells us this Prayer Carpet was woven near the grave of the children of the prophet. This is Kerbela, where the grave of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson Huseyin is situated. Although the name of this ruler is not written on the carpet, in a museum directory published in 1930 it is written: “This Prayer Carpet was presented to the Tomb of Mevlana by an Ottoman sultan upon his return from a journey to Iran.”

The name which immediately springs to mind is Yavuz Sultan Selim, because he had always felt a great interest in the Tomb of Mevlana in Konya, and visited it on several occasions between his journeys to Egypt and Iran. At each visit to the Tomb the sultan would bring some gifts or have something made for the Tomb. He had fountains constructed, and water brought from the region of Dutlu. Just as he visited Konya on April 24, 1516 around the time of his campaign against the Persian Shah Ismail, so he was again in Konya on June 26, 1516 before he set out on his Egyptian campaign. A manuscript by Yusuf Dede in Mevlana Museum tells about the valuable presents given by Sultan Selim to the Mevlana Tomb, when he visited Konya on his way back from campaign, such as lamps, grave cloths, and other valuable objects. It is documented that the silk prayer carpet in the museum today was presented at this time by Yavuz Sultan Selim. It must have been woven in Kerbela for the shah to use during his worship. This means that the prayer carpet is at least 460 years old.

The most interesting thing about the carpet is the fact that it has writing on it. Writing was first used as a decorative element in carpet design during the time of the Anatolian Seljuks. The carpets woven in Konya during the Seljuk period often had decorative Cafic writing on the borders. These are the first examples of inscribed carpets. In later periods the technique spread from Konya to Anatolia and from here to Iran, and after the 15th century this systematic development led to a style of carpet decorated with writing which formed a special group in the eastern art of carpet making. In the 17th century carpets decorated with couplets began to be seen frequently. These carpets were usually woven for palaces or mosques, and examples of them can be seen in museums both in Turkey and abroad. The silk written prayer carpet in the Tomb of Mevlana, the gift of Yavuz Sultan Selim, is one of this group, but the oldest and finest among them. The fact that the carpet was never displayed, but immediately put away in a box can be seen from the worn lines where it was folded. In 1927 when the Tomb was opened as a museum this prayer carpet was removed from the box and displayed in a glass case.

According to experts on carpets, the Silk Prayer Carpet has 144 knots per square centimetre, thus making a total of 2 million 197 thousand knots in all. It is estimated that the carpet took five years to weave.

The Silk Prayer Carpet shines like lamps illuminating the mystic atmosphere of the Mevlana Museum, and every day hundreds and thousands of visitors stop to gaze at it The utmost care is taken to preserve the shining, unfaded colours of the carpet which is like a bouquet of flowers among the other prayer carpets on exhibit. For the carpet the hands which wove it and the sultans which knelt on it are like a dream, but now it must be living happier days in Mevlana Museum.

Source: Antika, The Turkish Journal of Collectable Art, July 1985, by Mehmet Onder

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