Bursa velvets

16th century, Turkish. Made in Bursa. Gulbenkian collection, Lisbon.

The persistent idea is of staggered rows of circles. Some circles morph into carnations and some -- into thistles. And others into flower arrangements. The pattern works -- but one wonders where it derives from.

Some patterns have a superimposed frame (a la Sanguszko carpet -- Heaven's Gate?). The frame, when present, seems always asymmetrical: it cuts through the circles differently at bottom than at top, suggesting that the design was directional -- to be hung one way but not the other.

One wonders why and hopes the museum got it right.

The circles can sometimes be arranged in neat rows, too. Here they seem to incorporate the idea of the chintamani pattern (of which more anon):

A great number of these was once exported to Poland; many workshops in Bursa (and later in Istanbul) existed solely for the purpose of production against Polish orders. Polish merchants in Bursa had a special tax dispensation, allowing them a lower export duty on their shipments to Poland (the Sultan being kind to his best customers). The National Museum in Cracow has a large collection of these makaty (Polish: wall hangings; from Arabic: maq'ad, a small sitting carpet).

But the influx of New World gold into Europe in the sixteenth century, and the subsequent price revolution, allowed Europeans -- including Poles -- to offer very high prices for these velvets; prices which Turkish nobles could not match. To prevent the draining of Bursa velvets out of the Empire, the Ottoman government then banned their export. One of the consequences of this decision was that Italian weavers began to make fake Bursas (many in Chintamani pattern) for export to Poland.


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