Berlin and the Oriental Carpet

Friedrich Spuhler, curator of carpets (1968-1985),
The Museum of Islamic Arts, Berlin

It was presumably the Paris World Exhibition that inspired the art historian Julius Lessing to acquire our first 'Oriental' kilim in 1868. During the preceding year he had worked in Paris as observer for the National Zeitxng, and some of his biographical notes tell us that he himself looked upon this period as the 'turning point' that led to his engagement by the newly founded Deutsche Gewerbemuseum (German Trade Museum). On his initiative, the name was changed to Kunstgewerbemuseum (Applied Arts Museum) in 1879. His book called Altorientalische Teppichtmuster (Old Oriental Carpet Designs), the first book ever written on the subject of Oriental carpets was published in 1877. Its subtitle describes it as a collection of patterns 'after pictures and originals from the 15th-16th century'. The initial assumption that too few original carpets had survived appeared to make it necessary to refer to painted reproductions, but after ten years of collecting this fear proved unfounded and in his Introduction Lessing commented, greatly relieved: 'such a large quantity of original carpets from that period has survived ... which can be put at the disposal of design draftsmen'. He also deemed the purpose of publishing these drawings, i. e. '. . . to make them more useful for the applied arts in Germany', and commented elsewhere that 'these designs represent such excellent models for our contemporary carpet production that their reintroduction is deemed most desirable by the author'. Up to this time at least, the acquisitions can be considered as a design collection to serve as models.

Such a practical motivation was rather unusual in Europe. More often it had been the transfer of pieces from royal collections such as those of the Habsburgs in Vienna and the Wittelsbachs in Munich that had led to the formation of carpet collections. The inventory of the Berlin Stadtschloss of 1851 mentions only three Smyrna carpets in Prince Waldemar's Indian rooms. The description 'Smyrna carpet' was generally used for Turkish pieces from this trading center and the surrounding area, which with an eye to exports mainly repeated the designs of various Ushak types. The loss of these pieces is not therefore very serious.

Returning to Lessing's Carpet Designs (1877), if we consider the influence of this book on carpet scholarship, we see that the problem of the age and origin of the carpets took second place to that of the reliability of the reproductions by painters such as Hans Holbein, Memling, Van Eyck and others. Of the carpets we are told that they 'came mainly from Asia Minor and the lands South of the Caucasus', and that they can be dated to the 15th-16th century.

In the series of 'Vorbilder Hefte' (model books) published by the Kgl. Kunstgewerbemuseum, the same author completed in 1891 the pattern collection mentioned above. He refers once again to its purpose, namely to meet the practical requirements of the applied arts', and points to early 'successes: i.e. that carpets with these designs reach our markets from India'.

The first observations, in 1891, on carpet collecting in Berlin are of special interest: 'It [the collection] was started in 1871 by Herr Direktor Grunow, who ordered a substantial number of old and more recent Oriental carpets from a dealer in Vienna and exhibited them in the Gewerbemuseum. We are also indebted to Herr Geh. Regierungsrat Dr Bode for his assistance in securing important acquisitions. After eliminating a number of duplicates and inferior pieces, the collection now consists of 225 carpets and fragments, almost all of them old Oriental pieces. Many were found in churches in Germany and even more in Italy, where following their transfer from the Orient, they were put aside when they began to show signs of damage, and this saved them. Some came to Berlin direct from Spain and the Orient. There are only very few pieces from before the 16th century, but many were made during the 16th and 17th centuries.

In retrospect, without detracting from the value of this original collection, we can describe it as an assembly of design examples, and the fragmentary condition of a piece in no way affected the decision to purchase it.

The two decades of intensive collecting activity ended with two important events which had a bearing on the future. The first was the opening in Vienna in 1891 of the first comprehensive exhibition of Oriental carpets from every period of their history. The second was the publication of the Berlin Animal carpet by Wilhelm von Bode ('Ein altpersischer Teppich im Besitz der koniglichen Museen zu Berlin', 1892) which set scholarly guidelines for dealing with classical Oriental carpets.

Bode's enthuslasm for Oriental carpets, which he shared with 'artists . . . and the art loving public', was fired by the exhibition in the Berlin Gewerbemuseum and the two exhibitions in Vienna in 1873 and 189I. In 1892, he confessed: 'I exploited the opportunity to acquire such genuinely old carpets from the art market for the benefit of our public collections in Germany, of my friends and of my own home.' He also helped the Kunstgewerbemuseum to acquire important pieces. During the last two decades of the I gth century, European cities such as Vienna, Milan, Florence, London, Paris and Berlin were in the grip of what can only be called 'Oriental carpet fever' Ä comparable to a similar 'epidemic' during the past fifteen years.

In his memoirs, Von Bode, who was an expert on Italian paintings, gives us an insight into the carpet treasures in Italy at that time which he came to know intimately in the course of his many journeys to that country. In his first publication, in 1892, he revealed some of his secrets. In his contribution to the Jahrbxch der koniglichen Preuss. Kunstsammlung (Yearbook of the Royal Prussian Art Collection) which bears the title 'Ein altpersischer Teppich ...' he undertook the 'first attempt' to 'sketch the development of the carpet industry in the Orient, including the age and origin ... Of individual designs, at least in broad outline'. His method was to group the various designs and then relate them to their representations in paintings, from which he expected to obtain a useful basis for dating the pieces in the form of ante qgem dates.

The method he described in this essay pointed the way for carpet scholars who based their research on the Berlin collections, known today as the Berlin School. Bode's essay was published with insignificant changes in 1902 as a monograph with the title Vorderasiatische Kngpfteppiche (Knotted Carpets from the Near East). A second edition was published in s914 with the assistance of E. Kuhnel. Henceforth the book became known as 'BodeÄKuhnel' and it has become the standard work on classical pile carpets, and has been published so far in four German and two English editions.

The most important observations in Bode's monograph are as follows:lthe Animal carpet mentioned in the title of his first publication, and related examples, are attributed to Persia, from the end of the I6th to the beginning of the 17th century. Today, ninety years on, we would date them only fifty years earlier. The name by which he described the group, as also the next group, the 'SpiralrankenÄTeppichen' (Spiral-tendril or Vine) carpets, is still valid. The period to which he dates the latter group, between the end of the I6th and the beginning of the 18th century, is a long one but correct in principle. He attributes the so-called 'Polonaise' carpets to Persia, a judgement to which we returned some time ago. Nor has there been any change in his dating of them to the I 7th century (these pieces are now dated to the early part of this century). Equally astonishing, is his attribution of the 'Siebenburger' ('Transylvanian') carpets to Asia Minor and European Turkey and his dating of them to the 17th -l8th century, which again is still accepted.

Von Bode describes as 'pre Safavid' the 'primitive and partly Barbarian Animal carpets' (i.e. the early Anatolian Animal carpets) which, on the basis of their appearance on paintings, he dated to the 15th century and attributed to Asia Minor. The inclusion in this group of the Caucasian Dragon carpets is one of his few errors.

In the second part of his monograph, Von Bode divides Turkish carpets into the following groups which I list according to their modern descriptions: Medallion Ushaks, Star Ushaks, 'Double niche' Ushaks, 'Lotto' carpets, white ground Ushaks and 'Holbein' carpets. The periods to which he dated these carpets, based on their representation in paintings, are broadly accepted today. He attributes these groups to Asia Minor on the basis of trade policies. He offers no explanation for the order of listing shown above, nor is there any reason to regard it as a development sequence. Understandably, different opinions have emerged since then.

Von Bode's vlew of the history of the Oriental carpet can be summarized as follows: the starting point of any classification is invariably the Safavid carpet whose main characteristic is a Chinese influenced design. Then follows a separate development in Asia Minor with a division into groups which are still largely valid. The only criticism that can be made of his suggested dating periods is that their time span is somewhat too generous.

'At first a connoisseur and collector of carpets, and then a pioneer in research' _ these are the words with which F. Sarre honors W. von Bode. We have presented the research scholar. The connoisseur and collector of carpets erected his own memorial when he presented to 'his museum . . . a number of valuable Oriental carpets which he had collected in Italy, on the occasion of its foundation in I904'. In order to show the extent of Von Bode's donation (completed in 1905) and to indicate its importance, I would like to add a separate survey of the most important pieces. If these 'Bode' carpets alone were available, they would suffice if we leave out the so called 'Polonaise' carpets, Vase carpets and Mughal carpets Ä to furnish a museum of Oriental carpets, with pieces of the first rank. From this fact we can deduce that it was Von Bode's ambition to establish as complete as possible a collection of examples, although it cannot be denied that his greatest love was the Safavid court carpets with animal representations.

Here it is worth mentioning another donation to the museum. During the last quarter of the 19th century, W. R. Rickmers undertook journeys through Central Asia. His main interest was geographical and ethnographic research. In 1902 he presented his collection of some fifty Turkoman carpets and flatweaves to the Museum fur Volkerkunde (the Ethnographic Museum).

In 1892, F. Sarre joined Herr von Bode as an unpaid assistant in the Gemaldegalerie (Art Gallery) and during his study tours, from 1895 onwards, acquired a wide knowledge of Oriental art and architecture. This led to his appointment in 1904 as head of the newly established Islamic department. Like Von Bode, he augmented the Museum collection by exhibiting important pieces from his own collection, mainly Islamic ceramics and metalwork, which were initially on loan to the department. Of his carpets, only the Animal carpet from Ardebil is explicitly mentioned, a piece which he was forced to sell to John D. Rockefeller in New York due to the financial difficulties his family suffered as a result of the notorious post-war inflation.

In 1907 Sarre published his heterogeneous essay on 'Mittelalterliche Knupfteppiche kleinasiatischer und spanischer Herkunft' ('Medieval pile carpets from Asia Minor and Spain'), in which he presented two pieces from Berlin, the 'Dragon and Phoenix' carpet and the 'Synagogue' carpet and discussed their importance. The German consul in Konya, Dr Loytved, photographed (at the suggestion of F.R. Martin) three early carpet fragments found in the Alacddin Mosque. Sarre included these, somewhat too hastily, in his essayo without doing justice to this sensational artÄhistorical event, although he recognized them as the earliest Turkish pile carpets.

At the same time, he was working on his first carpet volume, a supplement to the three-volume work published in Vienna fifteen years earlier. Von Bode who had disliked the mixture of classical and later carpets in the Vienna exhibition in 1891, initiated this undertaking apparently with the intention of stressing their separation. In this monument to Safavid carpets, Sarre grouped them according to design features such as 'Persian carpets with arabesques and floral tendrils, Animal carpets and Floral carpets'. In retrospect, the following methodological innovation presented guidelines for future research: Sarre drew on a surprisingly large number of reports by European travelers for his observations on carpet weaving centers and the characteristics of their products. This method, like Von Bode's use of representations in paintings, deserves to be regarded as one of the features of the Berlin School.

The exhibitions I have referred to were confined to carpets. Carpets in the context of the whole range of Islamic art were first shown in Paris in 1903, and the most extensive presentation to date of Islamic art objects, including carpets, was staged in Munich in 1910. F. Sarre and F. R. Martin had assembled almost 3,600 objects for this gigantic display, among them 230 carpets. In this exhibition carpets had 'naturally a leading part', a fact which caused Sarre to remark that this was not a 'carpet exhibition' even though 'the impetus to the realization of an idea which was, so to speak, in the air was given by a few antique Persian carpets in the Konigliche Residenz in Munich', namely the Wittelsbach carpets.

Regarding the course taken by research, it should be mentioned that the principal role was still assigned to Safavid carpets. Dragon carpets and Tree carpets, after a long period of misattribution, were now included in the sphere of influence of Safavid carpets and more correctly dated to the 16th-17th century. Carpets from 'Asia Minor and Turkey' were insufficiently represented by a small number of later Star and Medallion Ushaks and 'Lotto' carpets. Also, they were assessed with undue regard to Persian models. The Dragon and Phoenix carpet was at that time on loan to the Metropolitan Museum, which is difficult to understand today. On the other hand, it must have been a great joy to see the two finest Mamluk carpets displayed together (the silk piece from Vienna and the Simonetti carpet, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York). They were described as so called Damascus carpets from Asia Minor. The range of provenances was extended by pieces from India and Spain.

This may be the right place to interrupt our survey of the story of carpet history in Berlin and take a quick look at other comparable collections.

As early as 1864, the Chamber of Commerce in Lyon established its own Musee d'Art et d'Industries. While the main emphasis there was on textiles, two important Oriental carpets were acquired in 1888 by auction from the A. Goupil collection. In 1902, Raymond Cox compiled a catalogue of the Musee Historique des Tissus which included twenty-four carpets.

The Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris competed successfully for the acquisition of carpets from the Goupil collection. As early as 1878, this museum had started to extend its range of carpets by purchasing two late Caucasian pieces for its collection which grew steadily, albeit without any spectacular high points, until the outbreak of the Second World War.

It was without doubt the Victoria and Albert Museum in London which, of all public collections, used the last three decades of the 19th century most assiduously for the acquisition of classical Safavid carpets and of pieces from Egypt and Turkey. Its purchase of the famous 'Chelsea' in 1890 was still known to only a handful of people. The situation changed dramatically when the decision was taken three years later to find the money for buying the legendary Ardebil carpet by public subscription. From then on, the English public had learned to accept the idea that the purchase of a classical Oriental carpet deserved a sum similar to that spent on fine art. The collection began with a Caucasian piece, a 'Blossom Shirvan' dated c. 1800 which was acquired in 1874. Approximately eighty pieces were registered by the turn of the century Ä proof of the enthusiasm of this London museum.

The situation in the United States was entirely different from that in Europe. When W. R. Valentiner assembled the Loan Exhibition of Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, in 1910, he selected forty-two carpets from no less than ten private collections. The total number of exhibits was fifty which included one carpet each from Berlin and from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and six pieces from the Metropolitan Museum itself. Three of these six carpets had recently been purchased at the auction of the Yerkes collection and I suspect that that may have provided the impetus for staging the exhibition.

In the period that followed, the Museum had learnt how to inspire potential collectors with enthusiasm, so that M. S. Dimand was able to begin the introduction to his catalogue of the Metropolitan Museum's carpet collection with an appreciation of the efforts of Charles T. Yerkes, Joseph L. Williams, James F. Ballard, Benjamin Altman, John D. Rockefeller Jr., George H. Myers and Joseph V. McMullan.

The structure of this collection, formed, as it were, from a number of collections, altogether avoided the establishment of guidelines for purchases or the need for deciding whether or not to collect examples from the 1gth century. The most outstanding example of the enterprise of American collectors is the Textile Museum in Washington, DC, with its superb holdings of Oriental carpets and textiles. Its founder, G. Hewitt Myers, is said to have bought his first Oriental carpets in 1890 while still at college; and as early as 1928 he turned his private collection into a public museum which he administered until his death in 1957. Such a collection is, of course, determined by personal taste. Myers' museum included the world's foremost collection of Mamluk carpets and early Spanish pieces.

After this excursion to other museums that assembled carpet collections at the same time as Berlin, I should mention the literature which is based to a lesser extent on the Berlin pieces.

Only a few years after Lessing's Carpet Designs, Vincent J. Robinson published his Eastern Carpets, Twelve Early Examples. In his comprehensive introduction to this book, G. Birdwood assembled an astonishing number of references to the term 'carpet' and its many technical variants, starting with the authors of antiquity. He later extended this heterogeneous collection of sources in an interesting chapter in his collection of essays, entitled SVA.

Today, the book Altorientalische Teppiche (Old Oriental Carpets) published by A. Riegl in 1891 does not make easy reading. His opinions on Oriental carpets reveal the influence of G. Semper's theories on art, and apart from historical references to carpets Ä comparable to those in Birdwood - it contains many details about techniques. His influence on the subsequent literature was slight.

F. R. Martin's large-scale work A History of Oriental Carpets before 1800, published in 1908, had a markedly different influence. His history of carpets included a multitude of examples from very different fields of Islamic art. Martin's first worthy successor as a carpet historian was Kurt Erdmann who published his book Der orientalische Kngpfteppich. Versxch einer Darstellung seiner Geschichte (English edition: Oriental Carpets: an Account of Their History) in 1955. Martin's erroneous assessments of the Tree, Dragon and Animal carpets with their angular, carelessly drawn designs, as archaic precursors from the 13th century were soon corrected. His regional division of Safavid carpets is still in use, although it is open to discussion. If two carpet works had to be chosen that deserved to be described as works of genius, these would be Von Bode's 'Ein altpersischer Teppich' and this work by Martin.

The year 1908 also saw the publication of the first 13 monograph on a group of pile carpets of the 19th century - A. Bogolyubov's Tapis de l'Asie centrale .... While carpets of the 1gth century still dominated the Vienna exhibition of 1891, at least following the Munich exhibition of 1910 they were set apart from 'classical' pieces. This led to the birth of a type of literature on Oriental carpets that may be termed 'handbooks'. They offer information to collectors on 'late' carpets which had by that time become much sought after. This regrettable split persists today as a burden affecting many collections and collectors.

The most influential handbooks were written in the USA by J. Kimberley Mumford, in England by A. F. Kendrick and C. E. C. Tattersall, and in Germany and Austria respectively by W. Grote Hasenbalg, Heinrich Jacoby and R. Neugebauer and J. Orendi.

Ibroke off my account of developments in Berlin with Sarre's efforts in connection with the Munich exhibition of 1910. F. Sarre and H. Trenkwald's Altorientalische Teppiche takes us back to our initial theme. The two folio volumes of 1926 and 1928 led to a short revival of the Vienna-Berlin tradition of 'plate volumes' (Von Scala and Von Bode). There have been no successors. Volume I of this work, which is unique in the quality of its of reproductions, contains only carpets from Vienna; Volume II is dedicated to the 'rest of the world' with Berlin playing the leading part. In the Introduction Sarre offers a survey of the state of knowledge at that time. The detailed descriptions were written by Kurt Erdmann. The great variety of comparisons reveal Erdmann's admirable knowledge of the carpets of the world.

In 1921 Sarre published an essay the importance of which was scarcely appreciated, and which contains arguably his most important correction to the history of carpets. 'Die agyptische Herkunft der sogenannten Damaskus Teppiche' ('The Egyptian origin of the socalled Damascus carpets')48 secured Mamluk carpets a place of origin, i. e. Cairo, that is still accepted today.

During the twenty-six years (up to 1931) of Sarre's curatorship and following the Von Bode gift, thirteen carpets entered the inventory. Among the four donated carpets was the unique, large pattern 'Holbein' carpet. One piece was brought back from Konya by Dr Loytved; another was acquired by way of exchange. The remaining seven acquisitions were not spectacular purchases, nor did they offer any indications of a planned objective.

In 193I, the establishment of the Islamic Department on the upper floor of the Pergamon Museum was completed. To mark this event, sixteen carpets were acquired on permanent loan from the Kunstgewerbemuseum. Regrettably they included neither the silk Animal carpet from Kashan (KGM 94,48 Ä known as the Pheasant carpet, now in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Inv. No. T.100), nor the colossal Vase carpet (KGM 98,1, still missing), both of which Von Bode had acquired for the Kunstgewerbemuseum. The Animal carpet was sold by ministerial decree 29/36 on 10 February 1936 as part as the Guelf treasure; while the Museum's acquisitions inventory contains no information about the fate of the Vase carpet. This represents the first, if by no means the last, of the losses from the Berlin collection.

In the meantime, Von Bode's Vorderasiatische Knswpfteppiche was revised for a second edition (1914) edited by E. Kuhnel (Sarre's assistant from 1911). By adding the words 'aus alterer Zeit' (from earlier times) to the title the book was set apart from the handbooks. Kuhnel employed new criteria and divided the text into clear groupings, according to ornamental features. He still made use of the controversial concept 'Armenian carpets'49 and speculated on the relationships of the Dragon, Tree and Garden carpets, included under these names, to Safavid carpets. The Konya carpets were added to the section on carpets from Asia Minor, which also secured a firm place of origin for the Anatolian Animal carpets (Dragon and Phoenix). Then followed the familiar 'Ushak' types, and only then the groups described as carpets with 'geometric stylization', which we have now reverted to calling 'Lotto' and 'Holbein' carpets. As in Munich, four years earlier, the Mamluk carpets were called Damascus carpets; Spanish carpets were no longer included.

It was only fifteen years later that Kuhnel returned to the subject of carpets. He compiled the auction catalogues for the collections of Dr Eduard Simon (1929), Wilhelm von Bode (1929) and an 'industrialist from the Rhineland' (1930), and he also published collections such as that of Alfred Cassirer. Without these publications, his first acquisition following the war, the Cassirer Animal carpet, would not have been possible. Apart from his work on further editions of Bode Kuhnel, Kuhnel's most important contributions to carpet literature were his two catalogues, Spanish Rggs (1953) and Cairene Rggs (1957), in which he introduced the relevant holdings of the Textile Museum in Washington, DC.

Under Ernst Kuhnel's custodianship, the Islamic Department went through the turmoil and destruction of the Second World War. Together with his assistant Kurt Erdmann he began by arranging for the storage of all movable holdings in safer places in Berlin itself: in the flak towers near the zoological gardens, in Friedrichshain and in the cellars of the Mint. From 1943 onwards, as the danger increased in Berlin, it became necessary to look for more remote storage premises in the western part of Germany. The 'top pieces' were packed into cases and transported on trolleys to the empty pits of salt mines. For carpets which would have had to be folded into bales, this method was rejected for conservation reasons. They thus remained rolled up in the Royal Mint, where most were destroyed during the night of 10-11 March by incendiary bombs and water. Only some fragments were rescued, which had become so brittle that they could hardly be touched, let alone rolled up. It is a tragic irony that such considerations were to blame for the annihilation of twenty large carpets roughly eighty per cent of the total of such holdings in the Museum.

Another seventeen pieces were removed to safety but have failed to reappear. They are registered as 'missing'. The nerve center of the Berlin carpet collection had suffered a mortal blow. To make matters even worse, the pride and joy of the department, the Machatta fascade, was shattered into a heap of fragments. The reconstruction work undertaken by E. Kuhnel and his assistants was lengthy and laborious and deserves the greatest admiration.

For the celebration of the department's fiftieth anniversary in 1954, the cases containing the Islamic works of art were brought back to Berlin from the Central Repository in Celle and from Wiesbaden and displayed in the Museum complex in Berlin Dahlem. The carpets did not return to West Berlin until 1 November 1956, when they were brought back from Kaiserroda via Wiesbaden. In 1962, they passed from the trusteeship of the senator for public education (who was the dissolution of the collection of Konsul 0. Bernheimer. Berlin was able to acquire a number of important pieces, but in the end by no means the whole of this extensive collection came onto the market.

It was due to the close association of the Sarre family with the Berlin Museums that the latter were able to acquire the unique multi-niche prayer rug and a number of classical fragments. Erdmann had kept an eye on carpets coming up in German auctions since 1959 and managed in this way to acquire a carpet for the museum which used to belong to Wilhelm von Bode.

By acquiring two flatweaves and two Vagirehs, he anticipated an interest for collecting such pieces that only became widespread many years later.

We have already mentioned the return of carpets from Wiesbaden to the Islamic Department in November 1956. Among them were carpets from the Kunstgewerbemuseum as well as from the Schlossmuseum. The director of the former, A. Schonberger, and Kurt Erdmann came to an agreement under which these carpets should remain in the custody of the department; whereas the textile collection Ä with the exception of the important Tiraz textiles- was handed over to the Kunstgewerbemuseum on 15 September 1964.

In June 1971 the Museum fur Islamische Kunst was opened in its new building in Dahlem under its director Dr Klaus Brisch. The carpet collection, which is still important today, had found a worthy home. Since then it has been possible to extend the collection by acquiring a number of unique pieces which were intended to make good some of the war losses. There has been no attempt to supplement systematically existing areas of the collection or to initiate new ones.

During my work on this catalogue, my colleagues Dr Johanna Zick and Dr Jens Kroger, as well as Dr Volkmar Enderlein, the director of the Islamisches Museum were always ready to advise me. My warmest thanks are due to them and also to Dagmar Deckner, Eva Lisa Richter, Dorte Rudolph. Horst Bohnsack and Nils Ruters.