Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs

Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs from All Major Producing Countries

Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs – Collecting Kilims have had their ups and downs in the rug market. Once upon a time they were considered unfit for export. More a utilitarian item of daily life than a folk craft practiced for commercial profit, kilims had always been intended for domestic use rather than sale in foreign lands. The few fragmentary pieces that arrived in the West were used as wrappings to bail pile rugs.

But as Westerners interested in Oriental rugs began to travel more in Turkey and the Caucasus, kilims gradually became known to collectors in Europe and America, and eventually they came to be appreciated for the masterpieces of village weaving that they are. Though produced in a simpler flatwoven tapestry technique, antique kilims represent an impressive rage of designs from the very small to the monumental (nos. 699, 3402, and 489).

For sheer graphic force and quality of color, nothing can beat a good antique Turkish or Anatolian kilim. The only antique pile rugs that achieved such effects are the most sought after types of or the best Turkish village rugs.

Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs
Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs

Eventually the humble status of kilims as domestic utilitarian pieces ceased to be seen as a drawback, and instead it became the very reason for collecting them. As pieces that presumably took no account of the marketplace, kilims were deemed to be absolutely authentic works of tribal textile art.

They were considered to be documents of a timeless tradition of tribal design unaffected by the influence of high art or foreign culture. Owing largely to the researches of archeologist James Mellaart at the site of Catal Huyuk in Central Turkey, a theory evolved asserting that Anatolian kilims represent an atavistic design tradition reaching back uninterrupted all the way to the Late Stone Age, long antedating the arrival of the Turks in Anatolia. As vestiges of primordial tribal art, kilims bagan to command unprecedented prices, as they reigned supreme among collectors of tribal and village rugs.

In due course the dust settled, and the weaknesses of this theory began to be apparent. Designs claimed to be abstract representations of some ancient “mother goddess” could be more readily explained as adaptations of floral patterns in Ottoman velvets, or as simplifications of pile rug medallion designs, none of which were any older than the sixteenth century.

In fact, many of the geometric motifs in kilims – hooked or “ramshorn” motifs and serrated medallions or “ashiks” could be considerably older than this, but they are part of the authentic old repertory that the Turkic peoples brought with them into the Middle East between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, not some indigenous Anatolian tradition going back to Neolithic Catal Huyuk.

Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs - Mazandaran
Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs – Mazandaran

Today it is once again possible to get past all the romantic hype about timeless design in order to appreciate the power and beauty of kilims in their own right. Several examples from the Nazmiyal Collection offer some representative examples. No 699 is a Konya kilim from central Turkey or Anatolia datable to the mid nineteenth century or earlier. The kilim is made in two separate halves (once sewn together) owing to the limited size of the looms available to the weavers.

The field is organized in horizontal bands alternating narrow and broad. The broad bands have grand hexagonal medallions with hooked or ramshorn finials and interior ashik embellishment. The narrow bands have smaller hexagons with cruciform elements. The side borders consist of hooked motifs, while the upper and lower borders have a disjointed vinescroll border of z-shaped flowers and stems. The crenellated edges that separate the border from the field are actually a technical expedient. The slit-tapestry technique has vertical openings or gaps between adjacent areas with different colors, so vertical divisions between colors must be limited in length. Long verticals must shift and meander in the form of crenellations.

Although the piece is perhaps a century and half old or more, the design tradition it represents is probably close to a thousand years old if not older, and that is quite respectable enough. But it is not the age of the design that is so attractive to us; it is the power of the dynamic drawing with bold jutting forms that rock and roll across the surface, as well as the marvelous sense of color.

Individually the various reds and greens, oranges, tans, and browns all demonstrate the quality of the dyes that Anatolian weavers had at their disposal. But the collective effect of these colors in complementary juxtaposition is simply superb, especially given the grand scale of the piece.

Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs: Tribal Kilim - Long Mazandaran
Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs: Tribal Kilim – Long Mazandaran

Number 3402 is Southwest Anatolian fragment comprising half the kilim, but even so it is still a work of enormous force and presence. The original field design consisted of a pair of large green zig-zag vines with hooked tendrils or flowers.

Various hooked motifs floated across the red ground as space fillers. But the real glory of the piece is the expansive ivory-ground border. Here it is separated from the field by a more elaborate crenellated edge in the form of a reciprocal or interlocking trefoil pattern. The lateral border has a pattern of hooked motifs, somewhat more elaborate than those on 699. The top and bottom borders are fairly wide with three rows of motifs.

Each of these motifs is a cluster of serrated leaf elements, some with hooks, which are derived from the carnation designs on sixteenth century Ottoman velvets. What makes this border work so beautifully is not only the dynamic drawing, or the complexity of the design with its figure ground reversal effects, but the glorious coloration with its deep purples, reds, greens, soft blues, and yellows.

The weavers of these kilims knew quite well how pleasing the effects of color could be, and at times they simply ran with it in place of detailed patterning, as in Nazmiyal 489. Here the design is minimalist in the extreme – two panels of green flanking one in terracotta, with the vertical edges articulated this time as zig-zag crenellations. No less than seven or eight variegated shades of green, blue and yellow comprise the green area, with about five shades making up the terracotta.

A few horizontal stripes add the hint of a border above and below. The pleasure that this piece affords the viewer, simply in terms of the richness and variation of the color and the synergy between the terracotta and green, is nothing less than remarkable.

It is hardly surprising that kilims of this kind remain a major concern for collectors who appreciate works of genuine artistic quality and honesty. But the geometric simplicity and boldness of these pieces is also strikingly modern.

As such antique Anatolian kilims make superior as decorative furnishings in contemporary settings. Whatever our motives for acquiring them, whether as collectible pieces or as components of interior décor, antique Anatolian kilims are guaranteed to provide no end of enjoyment for their owners.

View Our Entire Collection of Kilims from the Caucasus and Persia

Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs That Are Caucasian and Persian

Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs – Nineteenth century kilims with allover shield medallion designs are not uncommon, though some examples are simpler than others. More graphic patterning identifies Northwest Persian kilims, which are more tribal. This identification is also supported by the reciprocal diamond border, which is distinctly Persian.

The very fine crenellation that articulated all the edges of the shield motifs is Persian as well. It is instructive to compare this example to the previous one to get a sense of how Persian and Caucasian or Anatolian kilims have a common design repertory, but one that has diverged or differentiated into highly distinctive dialects over time.

Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs: From the Caucasus and Persia
Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs: From the Caucasus and Persia

Nazmiyal kilim 3406 takes us into a very different world. This is a nineteenth century Persian kilim from the Zagros region in Southwest Persia. The recognizably floral design reflecting pile rug models indicates further that it is a Bakhtiari kilim, for only this group produced such flat-woven versions of pile designs, instead of sticking to the distinctive and independent geometric repertoire evident in virtually all other kilims.

This piece is notable not only for the more complex detailing of the floral components, but also for its extraordinary use of rich, saturated color in a wide range of shades. The contrast between the elaboration of the field and the simplicity of the zig-zag border is also quite effective.

Kilims of the Caucasus and Persia by Nazmiyal
Kilims of the Caucasus and Persia

Two more antique rugs – Qashgahii kilims, also from the Zagros region – will serve to round out this brief survey. The first one has a field design of concentric squares in shades of deep red and green. This simple and graphic design is elaborated further by the addition of weft float embroidery to produce the finer diamond meshes in blue and orange.

The border supplies an added contrast to the broad swaths of color in the field by effecting a barber pole design with many-colored stripes. 42234 plays with similar ideas but in a different way.

Kilims of the Caucasus and Persia by Nazmiyal
Kilims of the Caucasus and Persia

The many-colored zig-zags along the edge of the field are boldly graphic, but again they are set off against the finely detailed diamond mesh of weft-float embroidery that creates a border of sorts, and also against the little weft-float diamond medallion at the center of the otherwise open tan field.

The extensive use of weft-float embellishment is unusual. It is not widespread in Turkish kilims, or in those of the Caucasus, but this techique is typical of Turkoman and baluch kilims from eastern Iran and central Asia. The precise connection between these and Qashgahii kilims is as yet unclear.

This Article about Collecting Antique Kilim Rugs Was Published by Nazmiyal.

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