Guide to Caucasian Dragon Rugs & Carpets
History / Background
Of all the carpets of the Caucasus the Dragon Carpets are perhaps the most magnificence. Dating from the 17th century to the early 19th century there exact origin is a subject of some dispute. Generally attributed to Karabagh or Shirvan they were at one point attributed to Kuba.
The Kuba attribution is muddied a bit. In Early Caucasian Rugs Charles Grant Ellis quotes the Encyclopedia of Islam that Kuba “did not exist until C, 1750. Early Caucasian Rugs page 10. I have heard the same from John Wertime discounting Kuba because it was not established until the mid 18th century. (Conversation at Hajji Baba meeting at Wendell Swan’s house with Wertime) The problem with this is that the United States Embassy confirms the existence of a 16th-century fortress that dominates the city of Kuba.
The leading theory today is the Shusha hypothesis. Shusha the leading city of Karabagh and I think terming it the Karabagh hypothesis makes it more plausible. in the mid 16th century Shah Tahmasp began to use the Armenians of the Caucasus (still part of Safavid Persia) as royal merchants.
The Czarist Russians began to solidify their hold as early as 1805 – 1820 but they did not truly control the region for many years. With the capture of the great rebel religious leader Shamyl in 1859 and the end of the rebellion in 1864 did Czarist control truly solidify regional control. In 1865 to eliminate risk of future rebellion the Russians forced 1,2 million Caucasians to move to Turkey. http://www.mediaport.org/~caucasus/history/ I strongly suspect that areas such as Nagorno-Karabahk which were historically Muslim were depopulated and then repopulated with Armenians. As Christians the Armenians had an easier time with the Christian Russians.
The historical capitol Shusha was an ancient village in Karabakh that gained in importance when Panah Ali-khan Javanshir built a nearby fortress. From there he established himself as a Khan of an independent Khanate. Shusha was able to beat back the Persians in 1795 (VAR: SHUSHA — City of Shusha, Karabakh region of Azerbaijan) but not many years later (1805) the Khanate fell to the Czarist Russians.
What makes the dragon carpets special is their brilliant colors. These colors have a markedly different tonality than the colors we see in most other rug groups. Caucasian dragon carpets are certainly much brighter than the rather muted and subdued Tabriz color range.
The insect dye lac was the principal red dye used in classical Persian carpets. Lac would have also been the principal red dye used in Northwest Persian classical carpets, including those of Tabriz. Use of lac yields a “cool” rather than a vivid or “bright” insect red in the blue tones that we associate with cochineal from diverse sources, including the historical “Armenian cochineal.” Urban Persian carpets, certainly including those of the classical period, also used as mordanting for reds the element aluminum, in the form of alum. Mordants fix the dye to wool or other fiber. Dr. Mushak has often found alum in old Persian carpets to be variably contaminated with other mordanting elements that would soften or “sadden” the color, taking the edge off pure aluminum’s relatively clear, but not bright, red effect.
Bright reds in a Shusha long rug were derived from madder mordanted with tin. The insect dye in Shusha rugs appeared to be Armenian cochineal, with no evidence of lac found.Dragon carpets visually show no use of lac, the principal red dye of classical carpets through the 18th century, while Tabriz classical carpets show no bright reds from madder plus tin or insect dyes based on Armenian or other forms of cochineal. Dragon rug testing would confirm distinctions.
Dragon Carpet Fragment
This fragment is from the right half of a blue-ground ‘dragon’ carpet with white ground palmette forms which curl upwards in a distinctive way. The tail and one leg of the dragon is visible at the top, and to the left of it a quarter of the ‘blazon’. At the bottom on a red ground the wing of the mandarin duck is visible as a set of stripes.
Warp: Wool, Z2S, alternate warp strongly depressed, ivory, ivory/dark brown twist
Weft: Wool, Z2, 2 shoots, salmon, ivory, ivory/medium to dark brown mix
Pile: Wool, asymmetrical knot open to the left1. (see note below)
Density: 8-9 horizontal, 8-9 vertical
Sides: Not original
Ends: Not original
Colors: Cinnabar, taupe, pineapple, indigo, medium to deep teal blue and green, azure, raspberry, walnut, light pewter, pecan
The Alexander Dragon rug as depicted in the site is listed as having an asymmetrical knot. While this is entirely possible, the rug itself appears to be of a different group – that is, the vast majority of dragon rugs having a symmetrical knot but highly depressed structure. When a rug has a highly depressed structure it is difficult to tell sym from asym. In fact, this is the very area where the sym/asym nomenclature for difference between these two “warp wrappings” breaks down. A Turkish knot, when highly depressed, becomes “asymmetrical,” and difficult to distinguish from a highly depressed asymmetrical knot.
Eagle Group II Main Carpet
Origin: Central Asia, West Turkestan, 1st half 19th century
Size: ca. 307 x 190 cm
Notes on Condition: Important collector`s item. Large re-knotted area along the middle axis; another horizontal re-knotted section from the upper left side down to the middle (visible from the back of the carpet), two long, re-joined cuts, uneven wear.
An “Eagle Group” Asmalyk
Origin: Northeast Persia, before 1800
Size: approx. 70 x 123 cm
Notes on Condition: Sides re-selvaged; otherwise in very good condition.
Turkmen Eagle-gül II carpet
Origin: Central Asia, 19th Century
As far as is known so far, the unidentified gül of this splendid main carpet appears on three early and radically differing Turkmen multi-gül carpets; six other Turkmens (three main carpets and three variously dimensioned smaller rugs) probably from the same, as yet unattributed and unnamed tribe; and one east Kurdish rug.
The gül is distinctive, and may have a family relationship to the ‘Eagle-gül’. As in Eagle gül main carpets, those in our group of six carpets carry the dyrnak gül as secondary ornament. Like Eagle-gül II carpets, most of the group are woven in the asymmetric knot open right, but some are in the symmetric knot. The ground colour too is related to that of Eagle gül rugs and is found also in Göklen and some Yomut rugs. No pilewoven bags, trappings or other small items which belong to our unattributed carpets have yet been identified.
Eagle Group II Torba, circa 1780
This is a wonderful example of an Eagle Group II torba. In the late 1970s, a small group of related textiles were identified. Dr. Jon Thompson was the first to identify them as cohesive groupings in Mackie, Louise & Thompson, Jon. Turkmen. Washington DC: Textile Museum, 1980. He called them Imreli and Fine Brown Yomut. Piggybacking on Thompson’s work, Annette & Volker Rautenstengel proposed The Eagle Gul Groupings. This torba falls into the Eagle Gul Group II.
Group II: 2-ply pile yarn. Asymmetrical knot open to the right. Wool weft with at least one cotton (not silk) weft shoot. Medium red-brown field color.
This Eagle Group II torba was dated to circa 1780 by the legendary Textile Conservator Nobuku Kajitani at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Based on dye analysis, her own research and the c14 tests performed by Dr. A. J. Timothy Jull of the University of Arizona, she determined a probable age of c.1780.
Antique Yomut/Eagle group II Juval, early 19th C.
Size: 80 x 120 cm.
Origin: Early 19th century
Description: An outstanding early juval with good colours and an unusual border. Asymmetric knots open right with random small areas of symmetric knots.
Eagle Group II Torba
Origin: Central Asia, West Turkestan, 1st half 19th c.
Size: ca. 47 x 148 cm
Notes: Because of detailed and extensive studies by Rautenstengel and Azadi, we are today able to attribute these weavings to one of the three Eagle Gul groups.
Condition: In good condition; at the upper end with remains of the finely woven red kilim; minimal losses at right side.
Antique Eagle Gul Group II Yomud Mafrash
Size: 34 x 84 cm.
Origin: Third Quarter, 19th Century
Eagle Gul Group II / Yomut Mafrash
Size: 37 x 72 cm.
Origin: First Half, 19th Century
The Grogan & Co. Eagle Group Asmalyk
Origin: Turkestan, 19th century
Size: 4ft. 4in. x 2ft. 7in.
Fine Brown Yomut Chuval
This piece falls most neatly into the Thompson Fine Brown Yomut group. It bears strong similarities to Annette & Volker Rautenstengel’s proposed Eagle Gul groupings, i.e. trappings identified as Group II. The characteristics of this group include the use of 2-ply pile yarn; asymmetrical knot open to the right; wool weft with at least one cotton weft shoot, and a medium red-brown field colour. This piece has wool wefts while Eagle Gul Group II have “wool weft with at least one cotton (not silk) weft shoot”.