History of Turkish Bergama Rugs

Guide to Antique Turkish Bergama Rugs

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Bergama Rugs – Turkish rugs occupy an unusual position in the rug world. During the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance, they were the decorative rug par excellence, dominating the market in Europe and even in Middle East itself.

As early as the late thirteenth century the famous traveler Marco Polo commented on the high esteem in which Turkish carpets were held. Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the great master painters of Europe relied upon Turkish rugs as background props that could immediately suggest the status and prestige of the various personages they depicted.

Only in the course of the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did Persian rugs and carpets attain the standing they now occupy as the pre-eminent or standard Oriental rug for home decor.

Nowadays with the exception of Oushak or Sivas carpets, Turkish rugs are primarily attractive to collectors who eagerly seek out scatter sized rugs produced in the villages across Asiatic Turkey.

Among such Turkish village production, a few types hold a special prominence for their exceptional color and their sense of nomadic or tribal design – the Yuruks of Eastern Turkey, the Konya and Karapinar rugs of Central Turkey, and the Melas and Bergama rugs of the western Anatolian region.

Within such production Bergama rugs have a special place because of the high quality of their weave and the purity of their design, which has remained faithful to the types documented in Renaissance painting right into the nineteenth century, if not later.

Antique Turkish Tribal Bergama Rug by Nazmiyal
Antique Turkish Tribal Bergama Rug

The example shown here reproduces the so-called Ghirlandaio type, so named because they were depicted by the great Italian master Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494). Though very probably produced in the mid nineteenth century, this example comes extremely close to the few carpets of this type that can be dated to the fifteenth century, as well as to the examples depicted by Ghirlandaio himself.

The medallions consist of various segments or facets adapted from a classic type of Islamic architectural decoration known as “mugarnas.” The small indentations along the edges are elaborated by tiny squares with angular hooks. The medallions on this rug are an elaborated type where the muqarnas elements are expanded outward and grouped around a central square enclosing an octagon.

The stepped cornerpieces also have muqarnas fillers and more of the little hooked squares within each step. The border consisting of radial clusters of four serrated leaves is also an early type attested among the oldest extant Ottoman rugs and in Renaissance paintings.

What is so striking about Northwest Turkish village rugs like this is their commitment to tradition as well as to superior technical standards. Eastern Anatolian or Yuruk rugs of the nineteenth century also derive from the same early traditions as Bergama pieces, but they seldom preserve the precise ornamental detail or the rich, varied palette of multiple reds, blues, greens, and yellows (690).

It is therefore not uncommon to find that northwest Turkish or Bergama pieces may be dated much too late, or, at times, too early. Coming up with precise dates for pieces within such a conservative tradition is sometimes quite difficult.

Tribal Antique Turkish Bergama Rugs by Nazmiyal
Tribal Antique Turkish Bergama Rugs

The term Bergama is actually a catch-all popular in the rug trade for various local antique productions from the areas around Bergama as well, whose specific identity is only now becoming better known. Many of the pieces commonly dubbed as Bergama were made in the villages of Yacgibedir, Ezine, Balekesir, or Canakkale. This last type is especially recognized by its palette and designs.

Canakkale rugs like this example of the mid nineteenth century have a distinctive rich apricot or salmon ground accompanied by liberal amounts of soft sky blue, pale celadon greens, and golden yellows, in conjunction with ivory.

The designs on Canakkale rugs derive from early Turkish carpets of the so-called “Holbein” type, so named because they appear in the paintings of the Northern Renaissance artist Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543). The octagonal medallions with edges elaborated by serial pairs of curling hooks are the “Holbein” elements of classical Turkish derivation, as are the cornerpieces with deep cruciform indentations. The border too is an ancient type attested in the earliest Turkish rug production.

But the overall design of Canakkale rugs like this one is not quite as old as the component motifs. The arrangement of the medallions in a group of four linked by bands with little hooks comes from a different classical Turkish source, the so-called Star Ushak carpets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which have four-lobed, star-like medallions.

The original aspect of the Canakkale design is its combination of the star Ushak scheme with Holbein medallion elements. This development is difficult to date, but it probably came about early in the eighteenth century and continued into the nineteenth.

There are even early twentieth century examples of this design, although these tend to loose the celadon and golden tones. During the nineteenth century though, Canakkale weavers evolved a simpler version of this pattern with a looser grouping of the medallions better suited to scatter size rugs. But these still continued to use elements of “Holbein” type.

The highly traditional or conservative nature of antique Bergama or Northwest Turkish rugs is particularly interesting and relevant to rug enthusiasts who appreciate the special beauty of early Turkish carpets.

Apart from fragmentary and damaged examples, actual early pieces of this type from before 1600 are exceedingly rare outside the museums specializing in historic rugs and textiles, and when they do appear on the market they command prices that even museums can no longer afford.

Bergama rugs therefore offer the realistic possibility of acquiring genuine antique Turkish pieces which have preserved virtually intact the extraordinary sense of design and color for which early Turkish rugs are so prized. As such they are a collector’s dream in a world where dreams no longer come so easily.

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