Posted by R. John Howe on 02-22-2006 05:27 AM:

Monumental Ushak...and a Smaller One

Dear folks -

The largest rug by far in this exhibition is a “large medallion” Ushak (ARG 31) that hangs floor to ceiling at the far end of the gallery.

Again, the closer look.

And if you ignore the people, a closer look still.

This piece is estimated to have been woven in the 16th century.

Many here will be familiar with the various sorts of old Ushaks, but I have drawn on Ian Bennett’s survey “Rugs and Carpets of the World,” to sketch out briefly the contours of this group of classic rugs.

Bennett lists five distinctive Ushak designs:

Double-ended mirhab prayer rugs (and some single-ended ones)
Star pattern rugs
Medallion pattern rugs
Misnamed bird pattern (white ground)
Balls and lines pattern (white ground)

Both of the Ushaks (there is another smaller one, ARG 31, also included in the rugs we are showing you) are members of the “medallion pattern” group. In his examination of rugs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art Collection, Charlie Ellis says “The most spectacular antique carpets from Turkey are the Ushak medallion carpets with dark blue field and red center pieces…” (there are also large medallion Ushaks with red grounds).

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has half of one of these “blue ground” medallion Ushaks.

This Philadelphia fragment is estimated to have been woven in the early 17th century.

Gantzhorn provides another image of a blue ground medallion Ushak.

Here are two closer looks at this piece.

Bennett says that the medallion Ushaks include the largest carpets of the various Ushak varieties and the rug I am speaking to, ARG 14, in Dennis’ Anatolian exhibition is certainly large. I don’t have the actual measurements, but would estimate that it is at least 25’ X 12' and it could be larger.

Large medallion Ushaks can also be much smaller. Bennett provides one such on a red ground.

The piece directly above measures 9’ 9” X 6’ 6” (297 X 198 cm). It is approximately the size of the second Ushak in Dennis’ exhibition, ARG 31, estimated to have been woven in the 18 century.

The layout and detailed patterning of the various types of Ushaks have been examined in detail. Just a quick examination of Hali spines on my book shelf revealed one article examining a particular group of large medallion Ushaks that have “pseudo-kufesque” borders. So if this sort of analysis attracts you, the large medallion Ushaks provide a fine playground for your interest.

It may also be useful to note that most of the varieties of Ushak appear in European paintings and collections and some were made with royal and company crests as part of their designs, clearly indicating that, despite their frequent grandeur, they were often commercial products. Today, not many sneer about that.

In any event, both the Ushaks in Dennis’ exhibition deserve attention and the larger one does merit to my mind the term “monumental,” and not just because of its size.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 02-22-2006 06:59 AM:

Hi John,

This one was exposed last year in Paris at the exhibition 'Le Ciel dans un Tapis'

Medallion Ushak carpet, 16th century, 2.63 x 5.60m. Catalogue no. 39. Musée des Tissus, Lyon,

The author of the caption related to this carpet suggest, among other things, that this “image… was a sort of Sunni answer to the décor imagined by the Persians for exalting the messianism of the Safavid monarchy.”


Posted by R. John Howe on 02-22-2006 12:36 PM:

Hi Filiberto -

The blue ground large medallion Ushaks are seen by some to be older than the red ground ones but that is also debated.

And someone, perhaps Bennett, notes that the Ushak medallion carpets seem always to include one large centered anchored medallion with two half medallions to and bottom.

The significance of this apparently is that even in such carpets, which seem closest in many respects to some Persian pieces, the weavers seemed reluctant to move away from at least a hint at a never-ending repeat design, said to be a hallmark of Anatolian weaving.

R. John Howe