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 ‘double niche’ type. Theories are inconclusive as to why the ‘double niche’ rugs design developed, but it is widely agreed that they are later in dating to the single niche and the development of the design may be attributable to religious beliefs or the export market. There is speculation that they were 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, therefore the single niche was mirrored to create the double niche design. Their appearance and growth in popularity in Europe from the mid-17th century would support this, 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.
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