Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 147. A 'Transylvanian' niche rug, Oushak region, West Anatolia, first half 17th century.

Property from a Prominent Private Collection

A 'Transylvanian' niche rug, Oushak region, West Anatolia, first half 17th century

Auction Closed

March 31, 12:40 PM GMT


15,000 - 25,000 GBP

Lot Details


approximately 186 by 140cm.

Davide Halevim: Magnificent Carpets and Tapestries, Christie's London, February 14, 2001, lot 114

For an overview of these Ottoman Turkish ‘Transylvanian’ rugs and why they are known thus, please see below. This particular example of the genre is rare on two counts: both for its colouring, and for its border. A very similar example to the offered lot is in the Black Church, Brașov, inv. 180, illustrated Ionescu. S. (ed), Antique Ottoman Rugs in Transylvania, Rome, 2005, p.148, cat.166 and Schmutzler, Emil: Altorientalische Teppiche in Siebenbürgen, Leipzig, 1933, pl.38. What is most unusual in both examples is the 'Gothic' border, reminiscent of cathedral vaults, which is very rare among the 'Transylvanian' group; there are only five recorded examples with such a border, including the present lot - the rendition of the design on a pistachio green ground is extremely unusual. In addition this example shares the 'flowering-stems' within the spandrels with the Brașov rug, although with the interesting addition of the lone red flowerhead. They also share the 'head-and-shoulder' mihrab with plain field. The offered lot differs with inclusion of the three sprigs of leaves in the camel field, the central motif probably derived from the Mosque lamp design in other classical works. The combination of pistachio green, golden maize yellow and creamy ivory, with only small touches of pale blue and red seen in this rug is in profound contrast to the rugs of typical ‘Transylvanian’ production where the balance of colours is entirely reversed. Sotheby's is grateful to Stefano Ionescu for his assistance with cataloguing information for this lot.

'Transylvanian' Rugs

This group of rugs, from the weaving centre of Oushak in Western Turkey, are widely known by their apparent misnomer ‘Transylvanian’, originally prompted by the number of these weavings which still remain in Lutheran and Saxon Evangelical churches in the Transylvanian region of modern-day Romania; the largest collection is in situ in the Black Church in Brașov. These holdings represent the pious donations of parishioners, communities and guilds to their churches. and their continuing presence testifies to the regard in which they were held.

From the mid-16th, to late 17th century, Transylvania was an autonomous principality of the Ottoman Empire and the rugs themselves had enormous significance both within local government and as symbols of wealth and stature. Following trade privileges being granted by Mehmet II (1432 – 1481), in 1453, Turkish rugs were used as valuable commodities by the merchants trading with the Ottoman Empire and were exchanged in Transylvania for expensive spices and coffee. 

Within the group there are four main design types: 'double-niche', 'single-niche', and 'Transylvanian' prayer rugs and column rugs. The rug offered here is of the ‘single niche’ type. The ‘single niche’ rugs are normally considered earlier than the ‘double niche’ type since it is speculated the development of the ‘double-niche’ design was created following the edict by Sultan Ahmed I (1590 – 1617) prohibiting the representation of the mihrab, or niche, for items which were intended for non-Muslim countries, see Boralevi. A & Ionescu. S, Antique Ottoman Rugs in Transylvania, Rome, 2005, p. 60. See also 'A lesson in Looking', Frances. M., Hali, Reviews, Exhibitions, Issue 175, Spring 2013, p. 118 & 119 for discussion on the design development. What is abundantly clear is that the rugs were powerful trade commodities coveted by the Western world and highly prized by their owners. The dating of these rugs is supported by the number of ‘Transylvanian’ rugs reproduced in paintings, recorded in 17th century inventories, and inscribed with donor information, as seen on several of the rugs still in the holdings of the Transylvanian churches.

The ‘Transalvanian’ group is one that has always fascinated; they are highly sought after in the collecting community and examples are now in the permanent collections of highly prestigious museums. These include for example the Brukenthal National Museum, Sibiu, the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. For further information on this subject, the seminal work written by Alberto Boralevi and Stefano Ionescu, Antique Ottoman Rugs in Transylvania, Rome, 2005 provides a in-depth review of these rugs and their historical and social contexts.