Transylvanian Carpets at the Nickle New Galleries with Stefano Ionescu

The New Calgary Rug and Textile Club hosted Stefano Ionescu for a lecture in the new Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary in the recently opened Taylor Family Digital Library Building.  Ionescu is a resident of Rome, Italy and an independent scholar in the field of Anatolian carpets in Transylvanian churches. He presented an informative perspective on how these collections of Ottoman (Turkish) carpets dating from the 16th c onwards came to be a part of the Protestant churches décor in Romania.

During the Reformation in the 16th c the churches had their traditional art removed.   Frescoes, icons and other religious art was either plastered over or in the case of icons removed from the church sanctuaries.  This resulted in places of worship with church interiors whitewashed and devoid of decoration and colour.  Representational art had been removed in accordance with the religious views of the Protestants and the new décor for these churches became rugs which were hung on the walls. The nonrepresentational, geometric, vegetal designs of these rugs imported from Anatolia were in accord with the newly established religious mores. Interestingly enough it was the strictures of the religious beliefs of the Sunni weavers in Turkey that dictated designs devoid of representational images.  Parishioners collected and gifted these valued rugs to the churches.  Many of the carpets are inscribed along the flat woven kilim ends with the name and date of the donor of the specific rug.

Stephano lectured one evening and the following day there was a workshop where it was a great pleasure to have as examples for study carpets from the Jean and Marie Erikson Rug Collection which is part of the permanent collection of the Nickle Art Museum.  The workshop lecture focused on the work of Teodor Tuduc a 20th c faker/counterfeiter  of 16th and 17th c classical Ottoman rugs.  It is estimated that he produced in his workshop 150 to 250 copies of previously published rugs which he marketed as being originals from the 16th and 17th centuries.  Stefano has focused on this area of study and published a book of his research – Handbook of Fakes by Tuduc.  The lecture was helpful for understanding some of the hallmarks of the ‘fake’ production including being aware that Tuduc at times included false restoration in the newly woven pieces as a red herring to indicate age.  Another point of focus was to carefully observe the ‘corner resolution’ of the questionable pieces.  The originals 16th and 17th c rugs have poor corner resolution/solutions whereas the fakes have well plotted out corner solutions.  This whole concept of  ‘corner resolution’ has to do with how the weaver turns the corner when weaving borders.  Usually, it is very difficult/ almost impossible for a weaver doing a memory based design to turn the corners so that all four border corners have balanced design motifs as the design transitions from horizontal to vertical.  When weaving from a graph which Tuduc’s weavers would have been doing as they copied the originals it is much easier to plot a graph that allows the weaver to ‘turn the corner’ with absolute accuracy with no partial design motifs inserted to accomodate the turn.  As a reference beyond Ionescu’s publication Hali Magazine #131 has an article on Tuduc’s Fakes.  Ionescu has identified Tuduc’s work in major collections around the world including in the Textile Museum of Canada and the Nickle Collection.

Stefano Ionescu (on left) examining rug at the Nickle Galleries

A close examination of a carpet

The Black Church in Brasov, Romania houses the largest collection of Transylvania rugs.  The title “Black Church” references a major fire of 1689 when fire set by the Hapsburg invaders swept throughout the town and ‘blackened’ the church.  Post fire parishioners were encouraged to donate rugs and there are 114 rugs that date to that period in time.

Transylvanian Carpets hung in Black Church

In 2007 I attended an exhibition titled In Praise of God at the Sakip Sabanci Museum in Istanbul.  Forty Transylvanian carpets were displayed with pieces on loan from churches in Romania and museums in Berlin and Budapest.  One of the galleries had been transformed into a replica of a church interior and hung with carpets to demonstrate the effect of the rugs being included into the places of worship.  The above link in this paragraph includes images of the carpets from this exhibition.

Stefano Ionescu hosts tours throughout the churches and historical spots of Romania and all reports from personal friends of mine who have joined him in these travels are that this is a wonderful way to see the countryside, learn some history and particularly develop a deeper understanding of the group of classical Anatolian rugs that compose the collection of Transylvanian carpets unique to Romania.



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