Saturday, October 25, 2014

Caucasian Rugs[1]
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

For your convenience, I have listed posts below that also focus on rugs.
Navajo Rugs
Persian Rugs
Turkish Rugs

The term "Caucasian race" was coined by the German philosophe Christoph Meiners, who defined the term in his The Outline of History of Mankind (1785). Meiners's unique racial classification, contained only two racial divisions (Rassen): Caucasians and Mongolians.

The Caucasus range (the Great Caucasus in Russian terminology) is about 1,100 km long, extending from the vicinity of the Taman (or Anapa) peninsula to the Apsheron peninsula, on an axis- oriented West-NorthWest to East-SouthEast. Its total area is about 145,000 km2, and it is 180 km wide in the region of Mount Elbrus. A dozen or so peaks surpass an elevation of 5,000 m. On its north side the range, which is generally interpreted as an enormous complex of anticlines, rises gradually in a series of parallel chains above the Kuban and Terek plains, which are separated by the Stavropol sill; on the South side it towers over the basins of the Transcaucasia, two opposing triangles that open toward the Black Sea (the Colchian lowlands) and the Caspian Sea (the Kura and Araxes basins) respectively with their apexes meeting in the Surami sill. In addition to this dissymmetry between the Northern and Southern faces, the range is divided by Mounts Elbrus and Kazbek into three distinct regions on its Southern side: the Western, Central, and Eastern Caucasus.

Location of the Caucasus Range.

The population within the boundaries of the Caucasus range has been estimated at 1.25 million in an area of 103,000 km2; that is, an average density of more than twelve per km2. In fact, a large part of the western Caucasus is almost uninhabited, as are several valleys in the central Caucasus, whereas in the eastern Caucasus the population density is often extremely high.

Between 1942 and 1945 many inhabitants of the Caucasus were evacuated or deported; Balkars, Chechens, Ingush, and Karachai even lost their national rights for a time. Although a number of them returned to their lands after 1956, the population density never reached its pre-war level.

Ramzan Kadyrov celebrates Chechen Language Day in style.

The post today will not deal with how to create needlework miniature rugs, but rather with the design of Caucasian rugs themselves. The images of most designs are those reproduced by Frank M. Cooper using his needlepoint techniques [1].

Caucasian Rugs
Caucasian rugs were woven in the mountainous area between the Caspian Sea on the East and the Black Sea on the West. Over the course of time, many different ethnic groups – Turks, Persians, Armenians and Turkomen tribes from Central Asia - occupied this region. Some of these groups have remained, and so the area now features many different tribes and tongues.

The miniature rug below was reproduced by Frank Cooper [1] from a rug that is held in the McMullin Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The rug is unmistakably Kazak, recognizable by its widely spacer decoration on a plain-colored field. The wide white border is filled with highly stylized Kufic script, separated by Mystic knots, which are symbolic of God.

Kazak (A).

The Kazak rug shown below was adapted from a rug that is in The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, USA. The bright colors and bold designs are typical of rugs from this area. In the center of each of the two medallions, which almost cover the entire field, is a gold square containing what appears to be a swastika. This, in turn, is surrounded by eight cloud bands and thus the rug is sometimes called the “cloud band” Kazaks. The wide, light-colored border, with its stylized “eagle beaks” design is often used in this region.

Kazak (B).

Rugs often decorate the floor of Mosques. As devout Muslims kneel upon their prayer rug fives times each day to pray, they intone:

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds!
The compassionate, the merciful!
King on the day of reckoning!
Thee only do we worship, and to Thee do we cry for help.
Guide Thou us on the straight path,
The path of those to whom Thou hast been gracious;
With whom Thou art not angry, and who do not go astray.

The rug below is in the McMullan Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA. It has also been identified as a Moghan rug. The Moghan area is in Southern Azerbaijan, right on the Iranian border. The area is a melting pot of many ethnic groups. For hundreds of years before it became a part of Russia, it was a battleground for Arabs, Mongols, Turks, Persian and Russians, all striving to dominate this region. Naturally these various cultures left their imprints on the inhabitants of the area, which was then reflected in the designs of their rugs.

The design of the rug below is very similar to rugs seen in Early European paintings and in Timurid miniatures of the late 14th Century. At first glance the rug seems to have little color other than red, dark blue, white and some green in the triangles and border. On closer inspection, there is a lighter shade of blue and gold. The stars within the octagons are the same design but the colors vary in hue.

Caucasian (A).

One of the most pleasing rug patterns that comes from this area is the Kuba rug shown below. It contains five reddish Lesghi stars named for the Lesghian tribes with whom the design originated. These stars, with brown centers, are placed on a dark blue, almost black background. The field is further ornamented with squares containing different designs. The light brown main border, with characteristic S-shaped design, is centered between two narrow borders with identically shaped rosettes.


In Caucasian homes, pile carpets were used on the floors for warmth. Flat-woven rugs called Kilims, were used when a more flexible material was needed. Kilims were also made into bags for storing food, household utensils, clothing etc. Nomads also used them to make saddle bags.

The rug below is a Kilim, which Cooper adapted from a rug that is now in the Mustafayev Museum in Baku. The colors of this Azerbaijan rug are much more restrained than those of the nearby Kazak rugs. The decorative figures in the rug may reflect the everyday environment of the weaver. Note how the dark brown of the main border is carried across the center portion of the rug.

Caucasian (B).

The “eagle-head” border in the rug below is very similar to the main border of a Kazak rug in the collection of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. However this is a Shirvan rug, the colors in the main border are much more subtle, due to the shading from dark to light.

Shirvan (A).

The cottage industry has played an important role in rug weaving in Turkey, Persia (now Iran) and the Caucasus. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, many of the rugs exported to Europe from Western Turkey had been produced by cottage industries. Some were made under contract, with the contractor sometimes furnishing all the materials needed for making rugs, even looms.

The contract system was introduced into the Caucasus by the Persians in the latter part of the 19th Century. The Persians brought with them some of the designs from the court rugs.

The design of the rug below dates from the 19th Century. The rug is described as a product of the cottage industry in Shirvan, a district in the Southern part of the Caucasus.

Shirvan (B).

[1] F.M. Cooper, Oriental Carpets in Miniature, Interweave Press, Colorado (1994).

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