I am haunted by textile images  which float in my mind.  Men on horseback. Throned figures.  Phoenixes and Sphinxes.

Last month in St Petersburg on a visit to the Hermitage I anticipated seeing the much published Pazyryk carpet – the earliest knotted example dating back to the 4th century BC.


What I didn’t anticipate was having my heart and soul invaded by the beauty of a monumental felt (4.5 m x 5 m) from the same archeological find.  I had seen images of this felt published in Hali – the quintessential publication for carpets, textiles and Islamic Art but somehow particularly the scale of this piece of artwork had escaped me.  With the scale came the powerful presence of representational images and graphics that melded into the ‘powerful beast’ that has inhabited my mind. These artifacts from the Scythian Pazyryk tombs were unearthed in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia in the late 1920s.  The amazing preservation of the textiles is attributed to the frozen condition in which they were found protecting them from the normal ravages of time, light and vermin.



If you love horses you would desire to jump on the back of the magnificent beasts of the felt. If you love men you would long to meet the jaunty moustachioed riders with their erect posture and flirty capes or scarves flying.  If you have had any desire to bow before the throne of a deity or meet with the ruler of this world and perhaps a world beyond enter into this felt and experience the majesty the scene.



Beyond the figures the borders that break the felt into bands have such distinctive design motifs that millennium later are referenced in Central Asian textiles.  I am looking at the greatest of grandmothers of in a lineage of beauty.  Here in my home is a late 19th c Central Asian felted wool bagface with quadrants housing the ‘grandchildren’ of the Pazyryk motifs.

The appliqued felt on felt process with exquisite workmanship, great dyes, and motifs outlined with a stem/chain stitch and dark corded wool all combine to transcend the centuries/millennium. Beauty from 2500 years ago is communicated in a powerful way connecting what is human in all of us as our being responds to images, colour, graphics and the creative force that connects all of humanity.

If/when you are in St Petersburg and visit the Hermitage – take a pilgrimage to the small dimly lit gallery housing these artifacts – well worth a visit and some time travel back to a culture to fire the imagination.

3 Responses

  1. Mona says:

    As usual you do an exquisite job of sharing your knowledge in both words and pictures
    Thank you for sending me your blog.

    • Catherine Mortensen says:

      You are most welcome Mona. I am glad you are enjoying reading the blog – it encourages me to keep writing, Thanks! I love learning – I am off to a workshop today at the local museum being given by an independent carpet scholar who is expert on Transylvanian rugs. Should be fun to be in a ‘hands on’ environment – I love to learn that way.

  2. Carol says:

    I have recently discovered these things!! And these are great pictures!! I am so intrigued with them. Do you have more pictures to share? Can you tell me anything about the construction? Is that a man beastie behind the horseman? The 19th century piece, is that felt appliqued to felt, or wool felted onto felt, or pieces of felt inlaid within more felt, then stitched together? Thank you!! :-D

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