Archive for May, 2011

Erhard Stoebe and Davut Mizrahi on Manastir Kilims

Posted in Uncategorized on May 16, 2011 by rjohn

Recently, Penny and Tim Hays,

two Washington area textile collectors, hosted a program on Manastir kilims.

This program featured Manastir kilims drawn from an exhibition and catalog on this format by Erhard Stoebe and Davut Mizrahi of Vienna, Austria.


Erhard Stoebe is an artist and textile collector. He was the Chief Art Restorer for the principal museums of Vienna, Austria prior to his retirement. Erhard first developed his interest in Manastir kilims when Vienna became the center of the market for Eastern and Southeastern European textiles in the late-1980’s. He is the co-author (with Davut Mizrahi) of the definitive book on the subject “Manastir Kilims: In Search of a Trail”, Vienna, 2003.

Davut Mizrahi is an ethnic arts and textile dealer in Vienna. He began his interest in, and affection for Manastir kilims in 1988 when he worked in the Vienna gallery of M. Kirdok.  His first exposure to the Manastir genre was at Kirdok’s Fall 1988 show ‘Antique Kilims from Anatolia’. Davut remains active in collecting and trading kilims and other ethnic textiles of Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

The catalog is “Manastir Kilims,”  128 pages, 46 color pictures, 46 euros.

Erhard and Davut were in the room and conducted the session.

First, they spoke to some Manastir kilims they had brought.  Then, they treated some projected images of other Manastir kilims.

They began with some background on Manastir weavings, more generally, and referenced the Sonny Berntsson article on Manastir pile rugs with niche designs, “Balkans and Back,” Hali 112, 98-103.

The weavers who wove what are now called Manastir rugs and kilims, seem to have originally been Anatolian from the Karaman area (mostly Yoruks and Kizylbash) of east-central Turkey.  These folks were apparently moved after their defeat by the Ottomans, in the 13th-14th centuries, to the Balkans including possibly the Macedonian province of “Monastir” (the term has its root in “monastery,” and one of the legends of the Manastir rugs and kilims with that they were woven in monasteries in various geographic locations).   However, we now know from further research that the Manastir weavers were primarily resident in eastern Bulgaria. These weavers lived in proximity to large numbers of Christian Orthodox folk of Slavic origin. The Monistar province was predominantly Christian and the relocated Anatolians were Muslim.

In the late 19th century the Muslim population began to withdraw and, with Ataturk, in the early 1920s, there was another large relocation that took more Muslims out of the Balkans and back into Anatolia.

Berntsson indicates that there are two recognizable varieties of Manastir pile pieces: those woven before the early 20th century and those woven by Anatolian weavers whose families had returned to Anatolia from the Balkans.  He says that the pile wool on Balkan pieces tend to have a curly character, are are tightly spun, and that their color palette is milder than that of the pieces woven by the returned Anatolians. (The pile wool in many Anatolian rugs and that of their wefts are unplied.  Unplied wefts occur so frequently that it is often used to support an Anatolian attribution.)   Perhaps, significantly, Berntsson  says that yellow is rare in Balkan pieces and is of a pale sort when encountered (I say “perhaps significant” because the use of yellow is frequent, and often extensive, in the Manastir pieces we will see below).

Berntsson’s discussion was of Manastir pile rugs with niche designs.  The collection treated by Erhard and Mizrahi is entirely composed of  kilims — flat-woven pieces.  Most of these Manastir kilims also have niche designs.

The program began with the piece below.  The comments on the piece in this virtual version combine paraphrases of parts of the catalog descriptions and those by Tim Hays.


Here is an unobstructed view of M1.

Technical Information:

134 x 106 cm

Warp: white cotton

Weft: cotton

Weave: Weft-faced plain weave, tapestry, slit tapestry, brocaded bands at ends

Erhard said that this  “was the first piece that introduced itself to me as a ‘Manastir’ kilim.”  Its composition and even small devices are reminiscent of niche kilims of Sarkoy.  The “knotted cotton warp, its blue from woad, and stylistic references to Sarkoy weaves suggest that it was woven in Bulgaria.  Some areas of plain weave are noticeably textured (sometimes called “rep” weave).  It is estimated as late 19th century.

Here are some details of this piece.




Tim reports the ‘eye and face ‘ design in this kilim is most unusual. In fact this led the original owners to return it to the dealer, as they were disconcerted by having the face ‘watching’ them. With a little imagination this design can be seen as a vase with flowers, a woman’s face, or a cat’s face. The yellow and woad blue are diagnostic for Balkan/Bulgarian origin.

Erhard and Davut held up the next piece.


Here is an unobstructed view of M2.


Technical Information:

163 x 100 cm

Warp: Brown wool and brown and white wool twisted together

Weft: Wool

Weave: weft-faced plain weave, tapestry, slit tapestry,  interlocked outlining

Large, “architectural” niche topped by rams horns.  Eye and hand devices are “nazarlik,” protection against the evil eye.  Backs of hand devices and outside border are finely woven.   Backs of the hands are in interlocked tapestry to deal with the long vertical color change there.  The character of the green (from woad) and the design devices  make a Bulgarian/Balkan origin likely.  The finer than usual weave suggests the weaver knew the Sharkoy/Pirot weaving ouvre.  Third quarter, 19th century.

Tim indicated the prolferation of the ‘Hands of Fatima’ motif in this piece is especially noteworthy. If you look carefully you can notice the hands have just barely interlaced fingers (a nice touch)

Davut held up the next piece.


Here is an unobstructed image of M3.


Technical information:

150 x 93 cm

Warp: Brown wool, varying shades

Weft:  Wool

Weave: weft-face plain weave, tapestry,  slit tapestry, interlaced outlining.  There are three pick-on-pick brocaded bands at either end of this prayer kilim.  The plain weave sections have a moderately ribbed character from the use of a ‘rep-like’ technique (rep in this instance is the alternate use of thicker and thinner wefts in plain weave to produce texture)

Colors: Blue, from woad, red from Balkan kermes? and Manastir yellow, indicating a Bulgarian/Balkan origin.

The piece has a small niche device at its top, but wear pattern indicates it was not used for prayer.  Field motifs could be floral and/or animal.  The two delicate blue devices at the sides of the niche device resemble Sarkoy usages.

Erhard and Davut now held up M4.


Here is an closer view of most of M4.


Technical description:

Size: 170 X 95 CM

Warp: Cotton


Weave: eccentric wefts, plain weave, and Slit tapestry

In a subsequent email message Tim Hays gave the following description of M4.  “This piece is from Pirot in Serbia, last half of the 19th century.  This kilim is representative of the other great group of Balkan kilims – the Western,  Pirot or West Bulgarian Group.

The Western Group includes many very finely woven kilims with eccentric weft, plain weave,  and slit weave technique. It includes pieces from Serbia, Western Bulgaria, Romania (except Moldavia and Bessarabia)  and Macedonia. These pieces are mostly the product of organized town and workshop weaving in urban settings.  I believe the Manastir group is rural and the product of individuals working alone, but in a common tradition. The tradition relates strongly to their Anatolian tribal and Turkmen/Yoruk roots. It is well documented in both Serbia and Bulgaria that large proportion of the western kilim group pieces were woven by Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians. This was especially the case after the decline of Ottoman authority in the Balkans in the 1850-1877 period.  In this piece the red is likely cochineal.”

The next piece was a yastik.


I have turned it below to the most frequent publication position and to let you see its designs a little more closely.


Technical description: 

Size: 111X75 CM

Warp: Brownish wool

Weft: wool and white cotton

Weave: Plain weave and slit tapestry

This piece is very similar to Plates 5 and 6 in the catalog, but is not included there.

This is Manastir yastik of the non-directional type. Analogs would be plates 5 and 6. I ts not clear if these were made as sitting mates, prayer mats or just decorative use. This one is ca 1880 made in NE Bulgaria although simllar pieces were made in the Helvaci area of Western Anatolia.
Small kilims of this type were seen in the mosque in Razgrad Bulgaria when the Austrians visited there in the 2005/6.  I think the dye is balkan Kermes and one of the Manastir natural yellows (Weld, young fustic, smoke berry or the like).
This is the type of Manastir kilim still produced in Bulgaria today

The next piece was the one below.


Technical description:

Size: 1.6 M X 1.2 M

Warp: Wool

Weft: Wool

Weave: plain weave and slit tapestry

Here is a detail that shows its bottom edge.


This piece is also not included in the catalog.   Tim said “it’s a typical Manastir, though, with the archaic devices, open field, floating prayer arch, woad blue and wheat yellow ground.”

The next piece


Technical description:

Size: 155 x 102 cm

Warp: Brown wool

Weft:  Wool

Weave: Plain weave and slit tapestry 

Here are some details of M7 to let you see its features better.



This is a 19th century kilim impressive in appearance despite a limited palette. The weaver or weavers had a change of heart during the creation of the white outline which divides the red and blue portions of the field. The outline begins as a simple straight line and then changes to small square outlines in slit tapestry.  The sense of weightlessness is particularly strong with the motifs in a large open empty field. Note the two ‘eye’ motifs in the barely there floating arch.

The next piece was of the striped variety.


Technical description:

Size: 163 x 101 cm

Warp: Brown wool

Weft:  Wool

Weave: Weft-faced plain weave, slit tapestry, brocade

The emphasis of the large eye motif on the top suggests that this is a prayer kilim.


Stepped striping is in slit tapestry.  Decorated stripes are in brocade.


Erhard held up the next piece.



Technical description:

Size: 140 x 105 cm

Warp: Alternating brown and pale-colored wool

Weft:  Wool

Weave: Plain weave and slit tapestry

He said that a kilim like this is called “highly expressive” because of the extreme ingenious use of simple design elements.  Erhard also pointed to the use of the striped “fingers,” the empty field and the blue floating triangular niche device.

Here are some closer details of this interesting piece.



This piece demonstrates what the Austrian have termed the ‘womb’ design,  so-called because of the shape of the central empty field. It highlights the protective sense and function of the design of many Manastir kilims.

Erhard said that the motifs in this kilim are ” free from influences from the Sarkoy region, as well as any other,” and wondered whether this might be “an example of purely Manastir motifs.”

The next piece was noticeably narrower.


Technical description:

Size: 142 x 81 cm

Warp: Brown wool

Weft:  Wool

Weave: Weft-faced plain weave, slit tapestry

Erhard said that this piece is one of those in which the red area all round with its zigzag internal edge functions as a single, uniform border.  He contrasts this with the pieces we see in which the side border treatments are different from those at the top and bottom.  He called attention to the minimal device at the top of the niche, as “reminiscent of rams horns” and the “richly adorned eye motif” below the niche.


He said that the “arrow-like” forms in the field are “borrowed” from Sarkoy usages.

He estimated that this kilim is 19th century and among the oldest of its type.

The next piece was square-ish and austere.


Technical description:

Size: 115 x 135 cm

Warp: Various, natural light brown wool

Weft:  Wool

Weave: Plain weave some tapestry and slit tapestry .

It is, in fact, wider that it is tall.  The catalog says its designs have “magical surreal qualities.”  The floating niche with its internal eye form, topped by a rams horn device, draws attention.  The eye has “fantastic lashes.” We don’t know if this piece was intended to be used as a table cover or sofra or for some other purpose. Tim notes that bags and trappings are not known from the Manastir group.


The field devices are said to suggest Sarkoy influence, but the predominant use of red-blue, the economy of composition and the scale suggest a relation to Balikesir weaving, according to Erhard.

It is conjectured that this piece was likely woven in the second half of the 19th century after re-emigration to western Anatolia.

The catalog describes this piece as a “kilim with undefined use.”

The next piece was another not treated in the catalog.


Technical description:

Size: 2.5 meters X 1.5 meters

Warp: wool (brown)

Weft: wool

Weave:plain weave and tapestry

Here is Tim Hay’s description of this kilim: “This is another interesting piece.

“It’s part of the West Bulgarian Group from Chiprovtsy, Bulgaria.  Chiprovtsy is only 40 KM from Pirot, Serbia, and is on the eastern side of Stara Planina Mountains.

“This piece is one of a group of 18th century kilims from the area and absolutely typical for that group in color, weaving technique, size and composition.

“Interestingly, there is a seemingly related group of eye-dazzler kilims of very similar appearance and composition from the 18th century in Modavia (eastern Romania), which is north of the Chiprovtsy area.

“We use this piece to illustrate some of the differences between Manastir kilims and other South Danube or Balkan kilims.  For example, the Western Balkan and Western Bulgarian group of kilims are primarily the product of organized weavings in towns and villages. The weaving of the western group is much finer amd ,ake plentiful use of well-executed slit tapestry, interlocking and eccentric wefts in the weaving. Manastir weaving  makes little use of eccentric wefts or interlocking technique. The color palette makes use of different reds , blues and more commonly use s yellow as a primary component. Manastir weaving is decidedly rural and very individualistic, likely not the product of organized weaving.”

The existence of  a body of 18th century kilims with eye dazzler design is well documented in Dimitar Stankov’s 1969 book, Rugs and Kilims (of Bulgaria).  The existence of a similar type of kilim in Romania has also been documented in several publications from that country.

Davut took us to the next piece, an especially striking one.



Technical description:

Size: 167 X 128 CM

Warp: white and brown wool

Weft: wool

Weave: Plain weave , tapestry and slit tapestry

This piece has seven colors, but the weaver’s use of them gives the impression of an even wider palette.  The colors of the field are used again in the top and bottom borders, but with a slightly smaller scale that permits them to complement rather than compete with it.

The catalog describes the basic design of this kilim as “like a landscape,” and finds its composition “exciting.”  It sees the white triangle at the top center of the field, functioning as a kind of “light-source”: a “sun” over the “landscape.”

The “generous” use of a mild green is seen to be of the sort that Berntsson says are unique to Manastir kilims.

Here are two closer details of this lovely 19th Century piece.



It was the brightness of the colors in the next piece that one noticed.


Technical description:

Size: 11 X 47 CM

Warp: wool

Weft: wool

Weave: very fine tapestry, plain weave and slit tapestry . Some pick-on-pick brocaded bands.

Another narrow kilim and of the striped variety, it was not included in the catalog.

About it Tim Hays said: “This is a small prayer kilim format from no later than the first quarter of the 20th century.  It is a Manastir group piece based on weaving style, the gold/yellow color and technique. This small kilim is incredible finely woven and probably originated in Western Anatolia from mujahir immigrants from Bulgaria.”

The fragmented dignity of the next piece attracted attention.


Technical description:

Size: 111 X 90 CM

Warp: brown wool

Weft: wool

Weave:plain weave, tapestry, slit tapestry

The catalog indicates that the fragmented condition of the top of this piece provides “distinct” evidence that it was used for prayer.

We saw this “stripes around an empty field” usage in one earlier piece.  This time, the catalog invites us to notice, the field is “narrower,”  “not very ovoid” (ed. as some of this type vary much are), and “is extended by two panels just above the middle so that the entire composition looks like a cross or outstretched arms.”

The catalog sees the stripes in this piece, even those in the stepped end panels, as “fingers.”

This kilim is estimated to probably be the oldest in this grouping.

The next piece was the one below.


Technical description:

Size:1.8 X 1.5 M

Warp: brown wool

Weft: wool

Weave: plain weave, tapestry, slit tapestry and pick-0n pick brocaded bands

This piece is also not in the catalog.  Here is Tim Hays’ comment on it:  “This is another typical Manastir prayer kilim from the late 19th century (maybe older).

“It originated in Bulgaria – a little woad blue, but typical Manastir yellow (from weld or young fustic…or one of 20+ sources of yellow natural dye in the region)…the red is probably Balkan kermes.

“Note the archaic protective devices and the floating prayer arch with secondary arch apexes both below and above the main apex.


“Also note the wear pattern in the bottom third of the kilim.


“This is very typical.  Intact (ed. Manastir kilims”) hardly ever come to market.  They are either fragmentary, as this one is, or have old repairs.  This piece shows what may be indications of actual use in prayer – note wear patterns of knees and feet. There are other pieces with in which these patterns are even more strongly indicative of such use.

“The condition of this piece “also shows that (ed. as was the case with many similar ones) the suppression of the Turkish minority in the post-1950 era in Bulgaria led to a lot of these kilims being used for daily chores or or stored in less than respectful ways.  This one may have been stored in garage or oily shed.

“It is still a powerful, graphic piece.”

The last “in the room” piece in this session was the one below.


Technical description:

Size: 1.82 X 1.02 M

Warp: Brown wool

Weft: wool

Weave: plain weave, tapestry, slit tapestry and pick-on-pick brocaded bands

As the catalog says, “This piece is similar in composition to other kilims with finger stripes that usually define an empty field.  In this case, however, the plain colored field is replete with motifs.  There are suggestions of a possible “face” visible in its design devices.

The catalog also draws attention to the interlocked drawing of the decorations on both ends of the piece, to the range of color used in it, and to its “rich repertoire of compositional elements.”

There are indications that the slits in the top of this piece were meant for use in hanging it.  The catalog notes that “no other kilim has this technical peculiarity.”

Tim indicated this piece was another example of what Erhard characterizes as the ‘womb’ group.

The program now moved to the presentation and discussion of projected images of some additional Manastir kilims. These pieces are all from private collections in Vienna Austria

The first of these was the one below.

Manastir 1

Comment on Manastir 1: Probably Bulgarian origin from 2nd half of the 19th Century. White wool warp.

The next piece was:

Manastir 2

Comment on Manastir 2:  118 X 57 cm  A prayer kilim with rows of alternating red and blue lozenges. Could be Bulgarian, but more likely mujahir from Western Anatolia wuth synthetic colors.

Manastir 3

Comment on Manastir 3:  140 X 66  cm.  Women’s prayer kilim.  The Austrians saw examples of these still in use in the principal mosque in Razgrad Bulgaria.  Seen only in the women’s section of the mosque.  The men’s section had no such kilims; they had all been sold off.  Stankov and Velev assign this type of kilim to the Razgrad area,

Manastir 4

Comment on Manastir 4:   128 X 59 cm.  A women’s kilim of the same group as Number 3, but older and with natural colors.

Manastir 5
Comment on Manastir 5: 135 x 110 cm. This Buglarian kilim probably dates from the first half of the 19th Century based upon the language of the forms composing the design. There is a faded natural color? around the mihrab and the lower side borders which can no longer be determined due to use.

Manastir 6

Comment on Manastir 6: Another women’s “protective finger or comb forms” prayer kilim.  Erhard speculates this piece may possibly be from a different ethnic group, hence the different design.  Brown wool warps .  19th century
Manastir 7
Comment on Manastir 7:  This piece was acquired from Muammer Kirdok and may have been made by people originally from the  Balikesir area, given the overall impression of the design. We have called this particular piece with its unique floating mihrab pyramid the ‘Weeping Girl’.   156 X 95 cm.   Either Bulgarian or Western Anatolian in origin.  Mid 19th century with brown wool warps.
Manastir 8
Comment on Manastir 8: Another Kirdok piece measuring 160 x 112 cm.   Landscape type from Bulgaria (woad blue) mid -19th century.
Manastir 9

Comment on Manastir 9: A mid-19th Century prayer kilim. Probably from Western Anatolia. the mihrab has  rich green not seen in other Manastir pieces. Wonderful variation in colors in this piece.

Manastir 10
Comments on Manastir 10: A non-directional kilim, but the wear suggests it may have been used for prayer. the pink may be  rose-root used sparingly in the Balkans, Bulgaria, 19th Century. A typical Manstir design.

Manastir 11

Comment on Manastir 11:  A design composite of directional and central medallion kilim.  Bulgarian 19th century. Brown and white wool warps. 175 x 123 cm.

Manastir 12

Comment on Manastir 12:  This spectacular prayer kilim with its central ‘spider’ motif is among the most interesting known today. The colors are typically Manstir especially the woad blue and the yellow.  The design is probably intended to be floral or plant like. There is a faded color in the border which may be the remains of a faded dye derived from cherry skins.

Manastir 13

Comment on Manastir 13: This prayer kilim with its white wool warps has design motifs taken from the Stara Planina area (Pirot and Chiprovtsy) but the color aesthetic is pure Manastir. Bulgaria late 19th Century. 132 x 105 cm.

Manastir 14
Comments on Manastir 14:  This prayer kilim with its brown wool warp has a number in the upper left corner of the yellow central fiels which is either 3./147 or 197. This could be a Vakif number which means the weavers considered it good enough quality to be donated to the mosque. The Austrians believe this piece had been used for prayer, note the bottom third of the field is extensively rewoven. This piece has retained its full length, which is rare for Manastir kilims.  185 x 108 cm.

Manastir 15

Comments on Manastir 15: Prayer kilim with white cotton warp, Sarkoy design motifs but manastir color scheme. 158 x 99 cm.  The colors date this piece to 1920-1930.

Manastir 16

Comments on Manastir 16:  This may be a kilim of the late 19th century. Perhaps 1870-1880’s.  It looks like a workshop piece with its regular design and lack of personalization. It has lost its corner ties. Probably Pirot or Chiprovtsy.  White wool warps. 
Manastir 17

Comment on Manastir 17: Prayer ? or eye dazzler kilim? The piece has some directionality. This design is called Su Yolu (Running Water) or Baklava ( the pastry) in the market place and was probably made in east Central Bulgaria near Shumen (Stankov). Mid-19th century., brown wool warps.

Manastir 18

Comment on Manastir 18: Prayer kilim, of unknown ethnicity.  Probably made by  a mujahir group in western Anatolia in the 1920’s or 19330’s

The program came to an end and the socializing began.

I want to thank Penny and Tim for arranging this nice event.  Erhard Stoebe and Davut are thanked for sharing this interesting material with us, as well as their expertise.  Tim Hays gets a second thanks for the very considerable help he contributed in the subsequent production and editing of this virtual version of this program.  Paul Durn, handled the projecting tasks skillfully and provided some useful notes.
I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of an enjoyable, informative session on Manastir kilims.
R. John Howe