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Ottoman Rugs of the 15th to 18th centuries in Saxon Parishes of Transylvania

by Horst Nitz

The German oriental rug community and a number of European affiliates were in for a special treat at the last October weekend. Friday night of the 27th saw the opening of a major exhibition at the Museum of Islamic Art in the Berlin Pergamon Museum on the subject, Ottoman Rugs of the 15th to 18th centuries in Saxon Parishes of Transylvania, a joint event with the National Brukenthal Museum in Sibiu, Romania and the Museum of European Cultures. The 2006 Volkmann-Tagung with scientific programme and Stefano Ionescu’s presentation of the German edition of his book, Antique Ottoman Rugs in Transylvania, were neatly arranged around it.

Museum of Islamic Art Director Claus-Peter Haase at his opening speech:


Stefano Ionescu, much in demand to sign copies of his book and the exhibition catalogue:


In an effort to enhance scientific sustainability, the event was supplemented by a string of lectures. On Saturday, after introductions by Claus-Peter Haase and Martin Volkmann, Jens Kröger (Curator and Local Exhibition Manager, Berlin) spoke on Emil Schmutzler and the Research on Ottoman Carpets in Transylvania (1). Also, he outlined the social and historic context of this unique custom of donating Muslim rugs to Lutheran Christian Churches, which apparently went on until some time after the middle of the 18th century. Donors first of all were to be found among the various local guilds, but also among wealthy citizens and local aristocrats. The 19th century brought a gradual decline of the formerly influential guilds, and sporadically such rugs begun to appear on the market. Jens Kröger’s presentation was followed by Angela Völker (Head of Textiles Dept., Vienna, Museum für Angewandte Kunst) on Transylvanian Rugs on 17th and 18th century Paintings, looking at the changing function of rugs in private settings from a cultural-historic and feminine perspective.

The afternoon saw Volkmar Enderlein, the former director of the museum, speaking on Persian-Safavidian Elements of Patterns in Transylvanian Rugs, followed by the grand old lady of German rug science, Christine Klose, presenting Connections of two Early Transylvanian Rugs with Timurid and Turkoman Rugs.

In the last block of lectures of the day, Alberto Boralevi (Florence, Italy) spoke on Unusual and Unique Examples of Early Ottoman Rugs in Transylvanian Churches and Museums, and Georg Butterweck (Vienna) closed with Lotto-Carpets in Transylvania.

The Social Evening with Abendessen at the Park Inn Hotel was well attended and according to some sources lasted until about one in the morning. In elevated spirits, discussions at some tables were going high; and generally people seemed to have fun.

Christian Erber, organiser and host of the 2006 Volkmann-Treffen, relaxing with other participants on the social evening at the end of a successful first day:


Overnight we gained an hour due to a time change, and continued on Sunday morning at a civilized 10:30 with Jürg Rageth (Basel) and Solving the Riddle - On the Unmasking of Rug Forgeries by Chemical Dye Analysis. The presentation focussed on the doings of illustrious Romanian master forger Theodor Tuduc and his school.

Stefano Ionescu (Rome) discussed rugs that had left Romania during the first half of the twentieth century and still after, by official as well as ‘informal’ channels: Ottoman Rugs from Transylvania in Western Collections.

A tour of the exhibition guided by Jens Kröger in the afternoon of day two brought everything to a round end. Unnoticeably to the public once the exhibition had been opened, with his team of restorers he had laid the ground for this success during the couple of days and nights before - the rugs arrived at the last moment and still had to be unpacked, dusted, prepared and hung after sewing them onto canvas, etc. So, while everybody went home satisfied after many good-byes and exchanges of addresses, some may also have wished our extremely hospitable and devoted museum team a quite start into the new week.

On a stroll through the exhibition, one quickly notices that it has been arranged amidst the exhibits of the permanent exhibition, of which a number of pieces temporarily had to retreat into the archive. Also, while most rugs are hung against the walls as in their usual habitat in the churches of Transylvania, some have been conveniently arranged on purpose built stands, allowing for optimal inspection:


What follows is a small selection of six from twenty-four rugs altogether.

Cat. 1 - A 16th century small-pattern Holbein rug from western Anatolia in St Margaret’s Church, Mediash, 114 x 177 cm, 1500 kpsdm, with a rare red field:


Cat. 3 - A second half 15th century Ghirlandaio rug from western Anatolia in the Evangelical Church A.C., Halchiu, 130 x 187 cm, 840 kpsdm. According to Alberto Boralevi (in his presentation) this is the only example of it’s type and should be included ‘in the very short list of classical 15th century rugs that have survived till our times’:


Cat. 4 - A unique 16th century triple medallion rug from Anatolia in the Black Church, Brashov, 148 x 202 cm, 1300 kpsdm, bearing a strong Turkoman resemblance. Christine Klose focussed on this rug in her presentation on Connections of two Early Transylvanian Rugs with Timurid and Turkoman Rugs; Alberto Boralevi tentatively attributed the rug to the Karapinar area in Central Anatolia. He also expressed, that to him, this is probably the "most intriguing and most interesting piece in the whole collection":


Cat. 6 - A very refined second half 16th century ‘Lotto’ Ushak rug in the Evangelical Parish A.C. Brashov, 121 x 201 cm, 1340 kpsdm


Cat. 9 - An exquisite early 17th century ‘Chintamani’ prayer rug from Selendi, western Anatolia, in St Margaret’s Church, Mediash, 108 x 166 cm, 720 kpsdm


As Jürg Rageth had pointed out in his presentation, this type seems to have fallen to the activities of master forger Theodor Tuduc and others more than once (2). I am confident the rug in the exhibition had gone through a particularly thorough assessment.

Cat. 12 – An outstanding early 17th century double-niche ‘Transylvanian’ from western Anatolia in the Black Church, Brashov, 115 x 156 cm, 1520 kpsdm


The following images show Transylvanian rugs in their natural habitat.

Choir stools at Black Church, Brashov:


Naves at Black Church, Brashov:


Outside view of Black Church, Brashov:

A neighbouring Transylvanian town, Sibiu (Hermanstadt), has been elected "Kulturhauptstadt Europas 2007". The exhibition at the Museum of Islamic Art in the Berlin Pergamon Museum is scheduled until February 2007.


(1) Erich Schmutzler (1933) Altorientalische Teppiche in Siebenbürgen. W. Hiersemann, Leipzig.

(2) Kurt Erdmann’s (1966) Siebenhundert Jahre Orientteppich includes a chapter on forged rugs, the probably most distinguished piece of those mentioned was a Chintamani rug, at the time of it’s ‘unmasking’ belonging to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London .