Details & Cataloguing

Rugs and Carpets


A Yarkand carpet, East Turkestan


Freeman's, Philadelphia, 22 April 2015, lot 342

Catalogue Note

The present carpet is one of a small group known with this striking and emblematic design.

The triple medallion design is considered to be a representation of the layout of the symbolic statues on the Buddhist temple altar, with the three lotus seats on which the statues of three Buddha each with flanking Bodhisattvas would be placed. It is evocative of the Buddhist allegory of spiritual rebirth from the lotus of knowledge, which is an interpretation of the earlier Hindu allegory in which Indira, the wife of Vishnu, rises from the blue lotus blossom. The circular medallions evoke the sun in shape. The striking border design could be a stylised cloud (celestial) pattern, the archaic Argali horn motif (earth) or the profile of lotus flowers. The medallions are centred with the ‘shou’ (long life) character, which is of Chinese origin, and the inner border uses the auspicious Buddhist swastika character, symbolic of good luck. Importantly the colours are also symbolic, with the Buddhists and Hindus considering red as colour representative of the sun and senses ‘Samsara’, and is combined with the blue which to the Buddhists signifies spirituality and the night.

This carpet and five comparable counterparts share the overall design scheme, with the triple medallions, fretwork spandrels and similar inner and outer narrow borders with slight differences in the details and proportions of border to field.

For three published comparable carpets, see an 18th century carpet (372 by 181cm), Bidder (1979), pp.43-85, 2, & pp.53-57, plate V.; another, circa 1800 (364 by 180cm), in Spühler (1978), pp. 232 & 233, pl. 103, and a Yarkand, circa 1800 (180 by 376cm), from the Meyer-Müller Collection, Zurich, in Schürmann (1969), pp. 43-44, & 155, Plate 79.

For two other comparable Yarkand carpets at auction, see Sotheby’s, New York, 31 January 2014, lot 161 (370 by 180cm); The property from the collection of Robert P. Hendrikson, from a Caribbean Estate, and Sotheby’s, New York, 16 December 2005, lot 43 (383 by 198cm); which has a few additional scattered flowerhead motifs within the field.

The carpets and rugs of East Turkestan

East Turkestan (far West China: Xinjiang) geographically is a large region in the Tarim basin in the centre of Asia, isolated from the West, India and China, by moutains in the north, west and south and deserts to the east. The oases situated in the south developed their own characteristic ways of life due to the variety of tribes, religions and cultures, and being on the silk road had various influences upon them. Their carpets and rugs are a striking and identifiable group, and the three known designated tribes from oases along the silk route are those of Yarkand, Kashgar and Khotan and all have distinctive elements in their designs, some of which were used across the centuries, and through the region.

The Yarkand weavings are unmistakable due to their very distinctive pared back designs and limited colour palettes, and combination of elements from Central Asia and China which are symbolic and still resonant. Traditionally they include two predominant designs, one being the ‘vase and pomegranate design’, the field with overall pomegranate boughs with small vases, and the other is the ‘medallion design’, with medallions against plain grounds (See lot 53, for a silk yellow and red example of a ‘vase and pomegranate design’, & lot 59 for an example of a ‘medallion design’ rug). Kashgar, at a major cross roads of the silk road, was a very influential centre for the arts, with sources derived from various cultural sources including India, Turkestan, Persia and China. The earliest Kashgar knotted pile weavings are believed to be from the late 17th/early 18th century, and the Mughal influence from India, and especially the lattice pattern, was represented in the silk carpets. See an especially lustrous and elegant example of a floral silk Kashgar carpet in this sale, lot 52.

Khotan administratively was a dependency of Kashgar, and it did not have a court to rival those of Samarkand (West Turkestan) or Herat (Afghanistan), but is recorded as having a favourable reputation as a manufacturing centre for gold, silk carpets, of floral rapport pattern, which according to Chinese accounts by Fu Ching in Chi-yi Hsin-pien, late 18th/early 19th century, were a sensation, and they had a distinct five blossom design. Khotan is represented in this sale by three smaller, early 19th century rugs, including distinctive examples from the ‘coffered gül pattern’, with ‘cloudhead’ motif, lot 45, a version of a yellow ground ‘gül pattern’ with rosettes (uncoffered), lot 82 and a version of the ‘Herat and floral pattern’ lot 86, in stylised borders including a version of the geometric recurring Buddhist swastika character, symbolic of good luck.

Bidder (1979): Bidder, Hans, Carpets from Eastern Turkestan, Washington International Associates, Tübingen, 1979, Chp.III, The Khotan Carpets, pp.43-85, 2., ‘The medallion design’, pp.53-57, plate V

Spühler (1978): Spühler. F. & König. H & Volkmann. M., Alte Orienteppcihe Meisterücke aus deutschen Privatsammlungen, Munich, 1978, pp. 232 & 233, pl. 103

Schürmann (1969): Schürmann, Ulrich, Central Asian Rugs, Frankfurt am Main, 1969, Chp. III, pp. 43-44, & 155, Plate 79.

Rugs and Carpets