Thursday, May 14, 2015

Charles Grant Ellis of Kingston, New York


Charles Grant Ellis was one of the top experts of Oriental Rugs of the Twentieth Century. He is remembered for his knowledge and his books but there was more to Charlie Ellis or "Uncle Charlie" as he was known in his later years. I hope a few pictures will gave a greater look into the man.
by the way Ellis was a connoisseur, a collector, and the expert but he was not a dealer which made him very unusual.


Ellis was exceptional for his encyclopedic knowledge of rugs and also the depth and focus he had in looking at rugs. Many of the so-called rug experts know their inventory and look at the pictures in books and magazines but Charlie Ellis really looked at the rugs.


Charlie Ellis lived in Kingston New York. Kingston is a prosperous town on the Hudson river about 90 miles north of New York City and 60 miles south of Albany.

Hajji Meeting 1965. from www.hajjibaba.org Ellis center left with the bow tie.    
Despite the distance he was a regularly attending member of the Hajji Baba Club in New York.


Ellis grew up with Oriental Rugs. I remember lunch with Carol Bier at the Ritz Carlton on Massachusetts Ave near the old Textile Museum in Washington DC. She was reminiscing on how Charlie Ellis got started in rugs. Charlie's mother asked him to pick up some rugs that were in a shop for cleaning. It was the first time he ever really looked at them and he decided that he wanted to know what they were.
Ellis created a substantial collection over his lifetime. see last image for one of his best.


Ellis was best known for his writing on Classical Carpets but his own taste was eclectic cutting across the broad gamut of hand woven Oriental Rugs.






Besides the Ellis home in Kingston the old Textile Museum in Washington DC was almost like a second home. Charlie was a research associate of the TM and some of his greatest work was in association with the Museum.


That work includes Early Caucasian Rugs (Ellis, Charles Grant. Early Caucasian Rugs. Washington DC: The Textile Museum, 1975.) It is a book that is my favorite look at Caucasian Dragon Rugs. It stands tall even 40 years later.  Most people who read rug literature skim the pictures and read the captions. Some hardy souls actually read the text but with Ellis the gems are hidden in the foot notes. If you do not digest the footnotes you will never really get Ellis.


Besides the TM another favorite was the Cosmos Club one of Washington DC elite dining clubs.

The club can be a little stodgy but stories are told that he lightened it up at times when he took young and bodacious fans of his work to lunch. In addition to his fans Ellis had close association with overt field agents of the CIA but he was far too much the gentleman to involve himself with spying and country toppling.

One of the best of the Charles Grant Ellis Collection was his Para-Mamluk sometimes called The Tapedi Damascheni. Why they would append the appellation Tapedi Damascheni to this rug leaves me wondering.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Baron Heinrich von Tucher Compartment Carpet

Baron Heinrich von Tucher Compartment Carpet 


I am working a theory that the clearer and better articulated the border the older the rug. This one has a border that is much better than most which points to it being older than most.

What I mean to do is lay out a progression from 15th century Persian rugs into the so-called Damascus Checkerboard/Chessboard/Compartment Rugs that were most likely made up until the mid seventeen hundreds. What I am thinking is that a particular type of rug developed a following. Meaning that there was a market for a type. That from that Progenitor this type evolved. Actually I am torn between Evolution and Degeneration because these rugs are a clumsy copy of the 15th century Persian progenitor type. That each piece in this chain was a little further from the progenitor and that we see a steady degeneration of form. 
Borders are crucial because the 15th century progenitor had what John Thompson called Mitered corners. The mitered corners can only produced through the use of a supervised production of an artists design most likely through the use of a cartoon. Then the cartoon is gone and the rugs are achieved through copying. This is where we get to the question of Evolution or degeneration. What  see is that the copies get sloppier and sloppier as hey veer away from the earlier rugs. I don't like the word evolution in this case because the rugs never get better they only get worse which is why I prefer the term Degeneration to describe this. So if I am right in this limited scenario the beter the rug holds to the design the earlier it must be in the approximately 200 years that hese rugs were made. 

Baron Heinrich von Tucher of Nuremburg was the Bavarian Ambassador to Vienna at the onset of World War I. He was a strong advocate for Anschluss (Strong Union) between Germany and Austria.

Rippon Boswell & Co., International Auctioneers;
Antique Rugs & Textiles; Lot 101A

Lot: 101A
The von Tucher Chessboard Carpet The exact provenance of ‘chessboard’ or ‘compartment’ carpets is still a matter of speculation. In the past, it was considered certain that they originated from the workshops of Damascus, Syria, which was under Ottoman rule at the time they were made; more recently, a possible provenance in Egyptian workshops located in Cairo has been contemplated. This six-compartment ‘chessboard’ carpet formerly belonged to the collection of Baron Heinrich von Tucher of Nuremberg. His collection was sold by the Berlin auctioneers Paul Cassirer and Hugo Helbing in 1925. Three comparative pieces in the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, illustrate the differences that exist within the group. The von Tucher ‘chessboard’ carpet is related to the example pictured on page 51 of the exhibition catalogue, "Tapis, présent de l'Orient à l'Occident". An important museum-quality collector’s item with an outstandingly well drawn design. – The sides are not original and the lateral guard stripes are missing. Both ends have been expertly restored. Low pile.
Origin: Syria or Egypt
Dimensions: ca. 197 x 133 cm
Age: ca. 1600
Estimate: 49,000.00 €

Literature: INSTITUT DU MONDE ARABE (publ.), Tapis, présent de l'Orient à l'Occident. Paris 1989, pp. 48 - 53 *** VÖLKER, ANGELA, Die orientalischen Knüpfteppiche im MAK (catalogue of the Austrian Museum of Applied Art, Vienna). Vienna, Cologne & Weimar 2001, no. 11

Published: CASSIRER, PAUL & HELBING, HUGO, Die Sammlung Heinrich Freiherr von Tucher. Auction of 8th December 1925, lot 23
http://www.rippon-boswell-wiesbaden.de/admin/modules/auctions/content/auction_popup.php?lot=26620

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Mak Chessboard, The Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna



The Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna (MAK)
Chessboard’ or ‘Compartment’ Carpet, Syria or Southeast Anatolia, 16th century, 196 x 140 cm
© MAK/Georg Mayer
http://www.hali.com/news/mak-vienna-reopens-permanent-carpet-gallery/

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The Baillet LaTour Square Mamluk Carpet

The Baillet LaTour Square Mamluk Carpet

 This rug is very significant for a number of reasons, First of all it was the first Mamluk rug published in a book in Friedrich Sarre's Orientalische Teppiche. Mit Unterstutzung des K.u.K. Handels-Ministeriums, Vienna, 1892-96, pl.XXXVIII. This rug is also noteworthy for its square format.

This rug is usually attributed to Mamluk Cairo or early Ottoman Cairo but Jenny Housego has proposed a possible attribution to the Maghreb. The Maghreb is the area of the northern coast of Africa west of Egypt over into Morocco.

The palette is limited to wine-red, green and light blue. The wine red is most likely Indian Lac an insect dye. It is important to remember in Mamluk times they were a major maritime and trading power that controlled the India trade.








THE BAILLET-LATOUR MAMLUK CARPET
EGYPT, PROBABLY CAIRO, EARLY 16TH CENTURY
Price Realized
£782,500 Set Currency
($1,299,733)
Estimate £250,000 - £350,000 ($414,000 - $579,600)
Sale Information
SALE 1519 — ORIENTAL RUGS & CARPETS; 8 April 2014 London, King Street

Lot Description
THE BAILLET-LATOUR MAMLUK CARPET
EGYPT, PROBABLY CAIRO, EARLY 16TH CENTURY
Localised light wear, corroded red, localised repairs, occasional spots of old tint, backed, overall very good condition
8ft.6in. x 7ft.11in. (258cm. x 240cm.)
Provenance
Vincenz Baillet-Latour, Vienna by 1892
With Galerie Sailer, Vienna, by 1986
Literature
Friedrich Sarre, Orientalische Teppiche. Mit Unterstutzung des K.u.K. Handels-Ministeriums, Vienna, 1892-96, pl.XXXVIII.
Hali 31, July/August/September 1986, p.32-33
Lot Notes
The carpets of Mamluk Egypt are the most magnificent and complete group of early carpets to have survived to the present day. Their designs are closely connected to the geometric designs of other Mamluk art forms and are characterised by a complex, almost kaleidoscopic, geometry created by the juxtaposition of colour and form. Their restricted palette of wine-red, green and light blue silky wool and the variety of complex interlocking small octagons are unlike any other group of carpets which has an effect akin to luminescence.

The Mamluk Empire stretched from south east Anatolia to the Hijaz, in modern day Saudi Arabia, taking in Egypt, Syria, Palestine and parts of Sudan and Libya, lasting for over 250 years. The origin of Mamluk carpet production has remained uncertain but it is generally accepted that Cairo is the most likely weaving centre. It is thought that carpet weaving in Egypt commenced under the reign of Sultan Qa'it-bay (r.1468-1496), when there was a golden age of artistic creativity. This theory is supported by 43 surviving documentary sources that make reference to a carpet weaving centre in Cairo, the earliest and most famous of which appears in the writings of an Italian traveller named Barbaro who in 1474 was comparing the carpets of Persia, Cairo and Turkey. This along with a 16th century inventory of the Medici Collection which lists a Mamluk carpet as being 'Un tappeto Cairino', help to establish a chronology for these weavings (Alberto Boralevi, 'Three Egyptian Carpets In Italy', Oriental Carpet & Textile Studies II: Carpets of the Mediterranean Countries 1400-1600, London, 1986, pp.205-220).

Mamluk carpets are unique in the history of carpets both in terms of their design and structure. The lustrous silky wool found in Mamluk carpets is 'S' (clockwise) spun and 'Z' (anti-clockwise)-plied whereas every other group of Eastern carpets are constructed from 'Z'-spun/'S'-plied wool. Louisa Bellinger has shown that the technical characteristics of Mamluk wool is consistent with the characteristics of Egyptian wool used in the production of textiles for centuries (Ernst Kuhnel and Louisa Bellinger, Cairene Rugs and Others Technically Related, Washington DC, 1957, p.80). It has been suggested that the designs are reflections of other forms of Mamluk decorative arts, such as the striking geometric Cairene floor mosaics, tiles, book bindings and architectural woodwork. The strongest correlation appears between the composition of Mamluk carpets and Egyptian fountain courtyards. However, it is interesting to note that the Cairo attribution is not unanimously accepted and, in her article ''Mamluk Carpets' of North Africa', Jenny Housego has put forward an interesting but unproven argument that the square-format Mamluk carpets, such as the Baillet-Latour Mamluk, may in fact have been produced in the Maghreb, which had a long and prestigious history of weaving (''Mamluk Carpets' of North Africa', Oriental Carpet & Textile Studies II: Carpets of the Mediterranean Countries 1400-1600, London, 1986, pp.221-241).

The Baillet-Latour Mamluk carpet relates particularly closely to two important square-format Mamluk weavings with star-shaped medallions, the example in the Osterreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna, inv. no. T8345, and the Mamluk rug in the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, formerly in the collection of George Blumenthal, inv. no. 41.190.262. All three of these carpets have a very similar field organisation, they share a rosette and three section cartouche border without additional internal medallions, as well as two tiers of feather-shaped motifs that surround the interior octagon. Where our carpet differs is in its use of five colours instead of the three employed in the other two examples and the very unusually open central medallion with small floating ornaments which make the design feel particularly luminous and almost iridescent due to the large amount of light blue employed in both the inside and outer band of the medallion.

The present carpet, is important not only for its rarity and extraordinary beauty but also for its place in the history of carpet scholarship. It was one of the first Mamluk carpets to be published and appears as plate XXXVIII in the Friedrich Sarre's seminal Orientalische Teppiche, Vienna, 1892-96 (see lot 2 in the present sale), which was the first comprehensive carpet survey and was hugely influential on subsequent texts. In Orientalische Teppiche, the carpet is listed as the property pf ‘Herrn Grafen Vincenz Baillet-Latour’. This is Vincenz Baillet-Latour (1848-1913), an Austrian count and politician, of noble Belgian origins and the grandson of Theodor Count Baillet de Latour (1780-1848).


DEPARTMENT INFORMATION
Rugs & Carpets
KEYWORDS
16th Century
Medallion
Carpet
Rugs & Carpets
Rugs & Carpets
Wool
Egypt
Mamluk (1250-1517)

German Rug Scholars and the Tapedi Dameschini Mistake

Thompson was right, this is not a Syrian rug.



The rug scholars in the late 1800 and early 1900s did not have much to base their attributions upon. They were forced to draw heavily on European sources. The biggest source initially were Oriental Rugs in European Paintings. Another important source was Venetian inventories that mentioned Oriental Rugs. Here is where they ran into a problem.

The Venetian inventories used some potentially confusing terms:        

  • Tapedi Turcheschi (Turkish Rugs)
  • Tapedi Dameschini (Damascus Rugs)
Then later:       
  • Tapedi Cairini (Cairo Rugs)
Old Damascus



Unfortunately the German express train left the tracks at Tapedi Dameschini. They did not really understand what it meant in context. They took the simplistic and overly literal approach and assumed that Tapedi Dameschini meant a rug made in Damascus or at least one from Syria. This was because they did not understand Venetian trading in the 14th 15th and 16th centuries. For that matter I am not sure if they really understood what a Turkish rug was but I will address that in another note.


Venice thrived on trade and the two most important trading partners were The Ottoman and The Mamluk. Venice could not just send its merchants to any city in the Mamluk or Ottoman empires. Where the Venetian Merchants could trade was tightly controlled and they could trade in certain Entrepôts. An Entrepôt was a city where good were collected and transshipped much like a Free Trade Zone is today. When a Venetian merchant wanted to trade for goods from or through the Mamluk Empire the two most favorable cities were Damascus and Alexandria. But keep in mind this was not just a place to trade for Mamluk goods it was where Venice traded for goods from Persia, India, Southeast Asia, and China. 

It is easy to forget the scale of the sea trade from Egypt to China in the days before Vasco Da Gama found a sea route to India. When Marco Polo returned home from China in 1292 AD he crossed the Arabian Sea in a typical merchant ship. But keep in mind that ship had 60 passenger cabins and a crew of 300. The sea trade was far bigger than most rug scholars ever account for. Polo departed the ship in IL-Khanid Iran because he wanted to avoid the Mamluk but that ship continued on and goods from that merchant ship would have ended up in Damascus and been offered for trade to Venetian merchants.

So a Tapedi Dameschini was not necessarily a rug made in Syria it was a rug woven anywhere that the Ottoman did not control and was of the type sold in Damascus.

If we follow Palmira Johnson Brummett in “Ottoman Seapower and Levantine Diplomacy in the Age of Discovery” we see how deeply intertwined the Safavid Persians were in the Pre Ottoman era Turkmen Border States and Mamluk Syria. Shah Ismail conquered all the way into Central Anatolia in 1506. He made it as far as Kahramanmaraş. Keep in mind that Kahramanmaraş or Maras as it was called was half way between Adana and Malatya. Central Anatolia rugs were not Turkish in the 15th century. So when European scholars like Kurt Erdmann (or Thompson) drew the line between Tapedi Turcheschi and Tapedi Dameschini were they calling Central Anatolian rugs Dameschini? NO, Both Erdman and Thompson and for that matter we could throw in Charlie Ellis, Ernst Kuhnel, and Louisa Bellinjer don't make that distinction.

The same applies to Syria when Shah Ismail petitioned The Doge of Venice for bombardiers to help him fight the Ottoman he directed that they be sent through Syria.  Mamluk Syria was Shah Ismail’s gateway to Europe.

So let us look at translation of Erdmann from Jon Thompson’s article in The Arts of the Mamluks in Egypt and Syria: Evolution and Impact
 edited by Doris Behrens-Abouseif



I do not mean to detract from Erdmann. He was a brilliant Architect and Museum Curator.  He had a great knowledge and appreciation of Oriental Rugs. But he and Jon Thompson for that matter do not seem to know much about the Mamluk Empire, Syria and the Turkman Border States. Following Thompson Erdmann did not think Egyptian carpets would be sold in Damascus and Thompson does little to disabuse the notion. But again Thompson is not just a great rug expert he is probably the greatest alive today and one of the greatest who ever lived. He just isn’t a Mamluk historian. 

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Museum of Islamic Art Berlin Checkerboard Rug

The Museum of Islamic Art Berlin Checkerboard Rug

The faded areas are old repairs. But the original areas are complete enough to get a clear idea of the rug. My initial reaction is to guess that the Museum of Islamic Art Berlin Checkerboard Rug is a later rug. What do I mean by later? Keep in mind the Mamluk empire fell to the Ottoman in 1517. So I feel this rug is more Ottoman in style which puts this well into the Ottoman period. But keep in mind later could be circa 1650 maybe even 1600.
Why do I think it is later. My visceral reaction is primarily because of the Arabesque leaves. Now I have to research more to see if the facts bear out my initial reaction. Do Arabesque leaves give a valid criteria for dating. 
Compare this to the The Mouncey Checkerboard Rug
I think this is typical of what I am seeing as the older type. It is also what we see in a number of other rugs including the McMullan Checkerboard Rug in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Schürmann Checkerboard Rug.

The McMullan Checkerboard Rug Detail

Not a great image but I suspect that the McMullan Checkerboard Rug is the oldest one here. It makes me anxious to see more examples. 

The Museum of Islamic Art Berlin Checkerboard Rug
Chessboard carpet, Ottoman-Egyptian. Late 16th-early 17th century, 415 x 217 cm. Donated by Wilhelm von Bode, 1905. State Museum of Berlin, Museum of Islamic Arts, inv. no. I. 14. 




The Museum of Islamic Art Berlin Checkerboard Rug images are the Felix Elwert images.

https://www.rugrabbit.com/content/rugs-and-carpets-museum-islamic-art-berlin



The Schürmann Checkerboard Rug

The Schürmann Checkerboard Rug 


Lot 98
East Mediterranean ;Damascus’ checkerboard rug
published in Schürmann “Bilderbuch für Teppichsammler” 1960 plate 21 and Schürmann “Oriental Carpets” 1965 page 30
dated by Schürmann circa 1600
Estimate: € 80,000 – 100,000
Austria Auction Company: Fine Antique Oriental Rugs III
Tuesday 16 September 2014 at 2pm at the Novomatic Forum, Vienna.