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.
134 x 106 cm
Warp: white 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.
163 x 100 cm
Warp: Brown wool and brown and white wool twisted together
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.
150 x 93 cm
Warp: Brown wool, varying shades
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.
Size: 170 X 95 CM
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.
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.
The next piece was the one below.
Size: 1.6 M X 1.2 M
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
Size: 155 x 102 cm
Warp: Brown 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.
Size: 163 x 101 cm
Warp: Brown 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.
Size: 140 x 105 cm
Warp: Alternating brown and pale-colored 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.
Size: 142 x 81 cm
Warp: Brown 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.
Size: 115 x 135 cm
Warp: Various, natural light brown 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.
Size: 2.5 meters X 1.5 meters
Warp: wool (brown)
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.
Size: 167 X 128 CM
Warp: white and brown 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.
Size: 11 X 47 CM
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.
Size: 111 X 90 CM
Warp: brown 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.
Size:1.8 X 1.5 M
Warp: brown 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.
Size: 1.82 X 1.02 M
Warp: Brown 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.
Comment on Manastir 1: Probably Bulgarian origin from 2nd half of the 19th Century. White wool warp.
The next piece was:
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.
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,