Mystical Konya

With the Sotheby's Rug Auction of 7 November 2017 done and dusted, "Anatolian" rugs became the shining stars with some selling 30x the estimated value. Persian carpets from Iran has always been the A-listers in the carpet auction world and because of the exceptional and unrivaled artistic workmanship employed in those carpets, my view is that it will continue to be so for many more decades to come.

This does not mean that carpets from other regions are less valuable. The "Anatolian" rugs sold yesterday, proved that their worth should never be under estimated. My thinking is that the Anatolian rugs only really became available for intensive study after the end of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century. For the first time the extreme wealth in artworks of the Ottomans became known to the West and carpet connoisseurs had a field day! One of these is Christian Alexander whose view on the purpose of carpets, I discussed in my article last week. Mr Alexander gave 20 rugs and fragments to the auction at Sotheby's and a particular rug from Konya caught my eye (pictured here). Its estimated value was 4,500 - 6,500GBP but it ended up selling for a whopping 125,000GBP!

This archaic and wonderfully coloured work bears a number of similarities to lot 63 in this sale, to such a degree it seems likely they were woven in close proximity - this example is likely a little later in dating than lot 63. Another Alexander piece which shares the blue, red and orange colouring associated with Konya works of this time, is the Konya prayer rug, lot 121. Recognition of these fantastic village works from Central Anatolia is owed to the enthusiasm of collectors such as Alexander and Heinrich Kircheim and to the recent publication of the Ballard Collection in the Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri, by Walter Denny. 

The present example is beautifully balanced with a complicated array of rich organic colouring centred by an almost crimson field. A very similar example, which in turn is likened to the Alexander work, can be seen, Concaro. E., A., Levi, Sovrani Tappeti. Il tappet orientale dal XV al XIX secolo. Duecento capolavori di art tessile, Milan, 1999, p. 47. Here the authors, like Alexander, ascribe the medallion and secondary field motifs to the ‘Holbein’ group, and give a dating to the 15th century. Similarities can be drawn to works from the 15th/16th century, such as the ‘Para-Mamluk rug’ in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, no. 55.65.2, also believed to have been woven in Konya; this example also shares the central octagonal medallion with four minor medallions within the field and exhibits similar colouring, the border in this examples differs to the present lot, see Dodds. D., M. Eiland., Oriental Rugs from Atlantic Collections, Philadelphia, 1996, pl. 1. The border element in this and lot 63 is uncommon and interestingly can be seen in the medallion Oushak in the MAK, Vienna, which is dated to circa 1600, Völker. A., Die orientalischen Knüpfteppiche im MAK, Vienna, 2001, p. 53, cat. no. 15. Alexander observes that in the present example has a very well-articulated border solution which is unusual for a village weave, Alexander, 'Foreshadowing', op.cit., p. 192.)

The city of Konya is ancient and is to Turkey what Mashhad is to Iran. It is the place where mysticism and the faithful come together, mostly thanks to world renowned author and poet: RUMI. It is in this city, during the Persianate Seljuq Sultanate of Rum, that Rumi lived and produced his works. It is also in this city that he died in 1273 AD after which his son and followers founded the Mevlevi Order, also known as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, known for their Sufi dance or Sama ceremony. A shrine was built in memory of this great teacher and scholar in Konya. There is no doubt that the richness of Islamic and Persian art influenced the carpet weaving in Konya and thanks to surviving carpets such as these, we get a glimpse into life in Anatolia.

After this historic auction, my prediction is that more precious tribal carpets from Anatolia will finally come into the public domain and I cannot wait to see what we are going to find.