Antique Turkish Village Rugs

Guide to Turkish Village Rugs

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Village Rugs – Milas / Melas rugs are among the most collectible Turkish village rugs and weaving. Long a staple of antique Turkish rugs, Milas / Melas pieces are prized for their rich yet delicate palette and for the finesse and sureness of their drawing.

The most well-known type of Milas / Melas is the prayer rug format, characterized by a relatively simple red niche with a diamond mihrab or arch at the top, often with a wide main border of floral or geometric rug type. Less familiar is another type of small or scatter sized Melas that has been attributed more specifically to the village rugs of Karaova to the south of Melas itself.

These are not generally prayer rugs, but like the more familiar Melas type, they tend to have a small field with the rest of the surface occupied by one large or several smaller borders. The above piece, is an outstanding and unusual example of these Karaova-Melas antique rugs, while another from the Nazmiyal Collection, below, is more representative of the type.

Antique Turkish Village Rugs by Nazmiyal
Antique Bergama Turkish Village Rugs

Karaova-Melas rugs are distinguished most of all by a sinuous, dynamic form of vinescroll with pointed indentations, used primarily as a border, but also as field filler. On this antique Milas village rug it is used twice, in two different borders with varied coloration.

This type of border has a distinguished lineage traceable to the finest classical Turkish carpets of the sixteenth and 17th Centuries, like the well-known Medallion- and Star-Oushak rugs.

The rug below here, comes particularly close to such classical forerunners, but the recognizably of the vine-scroll is obscured somewhat by the use of different ground colors on either side of the vine. The feathery palmettes adjacent to the vine are related to the vine-scroll borders on rugs from the nearby Makri area.

Antique Turkish Village Prayer Rug by Nazmiyal
Antique Turkish Village Prayer Rug

Interestingly, Karaova is about halfway between Milas / Melas and Makri. Thus it is not surprising that Karaova rugs should relate to the weaving traditions of the areas immediately to the North and South.

The inner border on this rug is also a distinctive feature of antique Karaova pieces. It too comes from classical Turkish forerunners, although not those of Ushak, but rather from the so-called Holbein group.

The main element in this border is a form that seems to be one half of a cruciform hooked motif with serrated leafy arms, a type attested in early Turkish Ghirlandaio carpets as a border design. On rugs of the so-called Large-Pattern Holbein group it already appears cut in half and repeated in a staggered arrangement.

Antique Village Rugs From Turkey
Antique Village Rugs From Turkey

The field of Nazmiyal 41963 is quite unusual within the Milas / Melas or Karaova productions, which usually have field designs of loosely strewn floral sprays. Instead it consists of an excerpt of an allover reciprocal design made up of adjacent quatrefoils and eight-pointed stars.

Because of the small field size typical on Milas / Melas and Karaova pieces, we only see limited portion of this design three quatrefoils in soft green and red, and portions of the stars as the blue ground. This is one of the oldest designs in the Oriental rug repertory.

It is already attested in the representations of rugs in Timurid manuscript painting of the fifteenth century. Among early Turkish carpets it was a fairly standard field pattern in the large Pattern Holbein group, although there the eight-pointer stars are the main motif with portions of quatrefoils making up the ground. Quatrefoils were also an important component in the field designs of another offshoot of the Holbein group, the so-called Lotto carpets, especially the Kilim Pattern Lotto pieces.

The quatrefoils on the latter have internal elements like those on Nazmiyal 41963. It is also possible that the feathery leaves in the Karaova and Makri vinescroll borders also come from Kilim Pattern Lotto forerunners, where such feathery leaves constitute and important detail of the quatrefoils.

Antique Turkish Village Rugs by Nazmiyal
Antique Turkish Village Rugs

Therefore, this rug emerges as an important piece, not only for the unusual aspects of its design within the Milas / Melas Karaova production, but also because of the range of classical Turkish forerunners that it seems to draw upon, and the possible relevance of this to the origins of the various Southwestern Turkish rug types.

Milas / Melas, Karaova, and Makri are all on the extreme Southwest coast of Turkey. Yet various aspects of the design repertory of the rugs woven there – the pointed vinescroll, the feathery leaves of the vinescroll, the border made up of dissected hooked cruciform motifs, the reciprocal field pattern of quatrefoils and eight-pointed stars, and even their filler motifs – all come from Ushak and Ghirlandaio carpets, or from rugs belonging to the Holbein group, which have sometimes been attributed to Ushak.

All these types were made in the more northerly areas of Western Anatolia. So it would seem that at some point in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, this Northwest Anatolian production began to influence rug weaving in the region to the Southwest, which eventually developed into the familiar nineteenth-century types of this region.

More than any other Southwestern type, Karaova-Melas rugs still bear the evident impact of this influence. As such the provide an opportunity to recognize the close connections among the various Southwest types and to understand more clearly how nineteenth century Turkish village weaving may have grown from the traditions established earlier in Turkish rugs of the classical era.

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