Sunday, January 24, 2010

a carpet in a Siberian grave

In my previous post I mentioned 14c Ibn Battuta's mention of other travellers' mentions of their journeys to northern regions, towards what we now call Europe and Russia. Tellingly, a carpet brings to light old travel routes of cultural and trade exchange, as the oldest Persian/oriental carpet was found in Siberia, in the frozen grave of a Scythian prince.

The origins of the carpet, the Pazyryk, is a site of debate, with the local and the distant all vying for validity, but cross cultural motifs, influences, and materials are evident--or at least up for interpretation in a broad field of symbolism. The 24 deer running on this carpet have been interpreted as pointing to a Mesopotamian symbolic origin. The deer hint of reindeer or elk, but they are spotted as reindeer and elk are not. Spotted fallow deer were abundant in the Middle East and the Persian region in the ancient past. Tom Verde writes in an article on the history of Oriental carpets in the visual representations of European royalty, religion and status:

"The world’s oldest surviving knotted pile carpet, now in St. Petersburg, Russia, dates from these distant eras: the Pazyryk carpet from the fifth century BC. Well-preserved and technically advanced, it features a design of grazing deer and horsemen. It was discovered in Siberia in 1949, in the frozen grave of a Scythian prince. Scholars are divided over the Pazyryk’s origins: While its knots are Turkish, its motif is Achaemenian, that is, Persian.

In Europe, returning Crusaders were probably among the first to import eastern carpets in large numbers. However, the craft was well-established in Al-Andalus (Islamic Spain), where the 12th-century Arab geographer and philosopher Al-Idrisi wrote that in Murcia “are made woolen carpets which cannot be imitated elsewhere,” and the 13th-century Andalusian writer Al-Saqundi noted that the “celebrated” carpets of Murcia “are exported to all countries of East and West.” When Eleanor of Castile—princess of Murcia’s political rival to the north—traveled to England in 1255 to marry the future Edward I, she brought with her, as part of her dowry, tapestries and carpets with which she decorated her private chambers. It was around this time that depictions of Oriental carpets began to appear in European paintings.


'During the Renaissance, more carpets were made for export to Europe than for the local Turkish trade,' [said carpet dealer Seref Ozen] .... In contrast to their humble origins as domestic, tribal weavings', Özen said, the oversized Oriental carpets in European paintings were evidence of a consumer base that simply could not get enough.

'The European market was an Orientalist market, and Orientalists tend to overdo it,' he remarked. 'We don’t put carpets on tables in the East; we put them on the ground to sit on.'

And to pray on..."


tasteofbeirut said...

Fascinating! I am bookmarking this to show to my mom; she was always fascinated with ancient carpets and has a small collection of Coptic tapestries that I think date to the 5th Century.
I am so glad Aramco magazine is still around! I love this mag. and my mom has kept the old issues.

Merche Pallarés said...

How interesting! I didn't know that Andalusia (Al-Andalus) and Murcia were strong weaving centres. Thanks for the info! Hugs, M.

northshorewoman said...

Taste of B, your mom's carpets must be beautiful and quite a treasure. I too enjoy the Aramco magazine and I bet those old issues are even more interesting to flip through.

Merche, isn't it true that no matter how much we learn there is always lots more to learn of the places we inhabit!