The Karakalpak Rug Collection of the Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow

by L.G. Beresneva, Curator, Central Asian Rug Collection, Museum of Oriental Art, Moscow
and A. S. Teselkin, Head, Oriental Division, Moscow "Tsaritsino" Museum

This article appeared in Oriental Rug Review

Investigation of Karakalpak carpets and rugs has been minimal, and their representation in collections is scant. Until now there have been no publications on the Karakalpak rugs in the museums of Nukus, Ashgabat, Tashkent, Moscow and St. Petersburg. This article is the first attempt in this field.
For this work, publications on folk art, ethnography, and the history of the Karakalpaks have been consulted, and information
from those sources is complemented by our own field research materials gathered during visits to Karakalpakia. We must emphasis the importance of materials provided by I.V. Savitsky, former Director of the Nukus State Museum of Karakalpak Arts, and the published works of T. A. Zhdanko. We are also grateful to Mrs. Babanazarova, the present director of that museum, for her friendly assistance.

Figure 1.

The Karakalpak rug collection of the Museum of Oriental Art in Moscow contains 52 pieces, of which 51 pieces had been collected by I.V. Savitsky in the 1950s and were presented to the museum in 1958. Almost all of them have analogues in the collection of two Nukus museums: State Museum of Karakalpak Arts and Museum of Local Lore. In addition to these, analagous pieces were seen during our visits to cities and villages of Kegeily, Chimbai, and Karauzyak areas of Karakalpakia.

At the present Karakalpaks comprise the majority of the population of Karakalpakia, which is a part of Uzbekistan. The other ethnic groups of the Karakalpakia population are Kazakhs, Turkmens, and others. Karakalpaks are most numerous in the lower Syr Darya and Amu Darya. Karakalpaks live alternatively with Kazakhs, Turkmens, and Uzbeks. Each of these ethnic groups preserves its cultural traditions including weaving. For some time, Karakalpaks used not only their own rugs for domestic purposes but those made by Turkmens and Kazakhs as well. That is why there are difficulties in the attribution of rugs from Karakalpakia.

Figure 2. (2) N-4272 111 Karshin, pile rug. Kegeily region, early 20th century, 3891 KP, 99x31 cm
Warp: brown and gray wool and white cotton
Weft: light brown wool, one shoot
Pile: wool
Knot: symmetric, 1,400 per dm2
Primary pattern: karshin gol
Colors: red (field), brown, dark blue, white, blue

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the yurt played an important role in the everyday life of Karakalpaks and was used for main or supplementary lodging. In the yurt interior, diverse rug items of pile, flatweave, and mixed technique were used: bags and sacks, decorative rugs and carpets, tent bands, and others.Karshins and eshik kases comprise the major part of our collection. These articles are also the most numerous of all Karakalpak rugs.
The karshin is a bag for garments and other cloth articles. Its average dimensions are 108-110 x 30-32 cm. It is placed in the lower part of the bedding (juk), which is placed on the trunk (sanduk). It consists of two parts: a face side woven in pile or mixed technique and a flatwoven back. The karshin is placed so that its face is visible. In our collection all karshins consist only of the face side.

Figure 3. (3) N-4273 111 Eshik kas, pile rug Kegeily region, early 20th century, 13892KP, 115x37 cm,
Warp: brown and gray wool and white cotton
Weft: light brown wool, one shoot
Pile: wool, olive and cherry colored silk
Knot: symmetric, 2,400 per dm2
Primary pattern: on yoki muyiz
Colors: madder- red (field and borders), dark brown, white, dark blue, green

The eshik kas is a decorative rug for the inside, upper part of the yurt entrance. On its right and left sides are two white bands, ishki jambu, made in combined technique.

Most karshins in our collection have variants of the so-called karshin gol or karshin nagish as a main pattern. The most frequent variant is an octagon, divided into four parts, with a diagonal color use. In the center of the octagon there is a
smaller one (sometimes a diamond), which contains a cross or stepped diamond pattern. In each of the four quarters of the octagon, there are three, four or five long diamonds and pairs of hornlike elements. We assume that these elements are remnants of animal or bird images, which in the past were used as totemic symbols. One of the variants of this main pattern is called tai tuyak (foal's feet).

Figure 4. (4) N-4214 Karshin, pile rug. Kegeily region, 1860s, 13893KP, 140x37 cm
Warp: dark brown wool and white cotton
Weft: light brown camelhair one shoot
Pile: wool
Knot: symmetric, 2,400 per dm2
Primary pattern: shuyit nagish
Colors: dark brown (field), dark, blue, blue, red

Variants of the karshin gol have analogues in Turkmen rugs and carpets, for instance, the Saryk and Salor juval gol, Arabachi-Choudor tauk nuska gol, and others. We can see the resemblance of the features in the general contours of patterns, in the division of the pattern into four parts, and in the small details of the patterns, in particular, the zoomorphic details. But most of all this main pattern resembles the medallion kalkan nuska, which is used in the carpets of the Turkmen Uzbek tribe, who live in the Nurata Mountain area of Uzbekistan. The kalkan nuska is also an octagon with clear zoomorphic elements, which are called at (horse) and gush (bird). It is possible that this resemblance can be explained by the common origin of Karakalpaks and some other people of Central Asia. Karakalpaks and Turkmen Uzbeks were originally connected with the Oguz tribes, which migrated from the Syr Darya area to the West in the 9th-10th centuries. If this is so, then the karshin nagish and tai tuyak patterns are some of the most ancient in Central Asia.

Figure 5. (14) N-4284 111 Eshik kas, pile rug., Kegeily region, 1930s, 13905 KP, 100x30 cm
Warp: dark brown wool and white and beige cotton
Weft: red -brown camelhair one shoot
Pile: wool
Knot: symmetric. 2,100 per dm2
Primary pattern: rows of octagons with crosses in the center called "it taban", dog track
Colors: red (field), white, brown, yellow

One more variant of the karshin nuska is a stepped octagon with zoomorphic elements or pairs of triangles. There is a diamond in the center, which sometimes contains two pairs of horn scrolls. This medallion is also divided into four parts and has diagonal coloration. Nine pieces in the collection have this pattern.

This medallion resembles the Saryk and Tekke juval gol, Choudor-Igdyr sakar gol and Kizyl Ayak juval gol as a secondary
pattern. In the Karakalpak State Museum this pattern is called karshin shuyit (N-3827 and others). Zhdanko considers it a variant of karshin nagish and points out that this pattern is used by the weavers of kindred ethnic groups, for example, weavers of Kungrat-Karakalpaks (a kin of the Mangit tribe). Zhdanko called this pattern shuyit nagish and supposes that in the past Karakalpaks, as well as Turkmens, had it as their tribal design (see Bibliography, Zhdanko 11, p. 390).

Fig. 6. (19) N-4289 111 Rug of three strips kizyl kur and one strip eshik kas, Kegeily region, 13912 KP, 119x65 cm
Warp: three cotton threads, depressed
Weft: two cotton threads
Pile: wool
Knot: symmetric, tied on upper row of warps
Primary pattern: combination of horn motifs and diamonds
Colors: white (ground), red, green, olive-green, dark blue, black, light brown
Comment: combined techniques

Figure 7. (20) N-4292 111 Rug, five strips of ak baskur, Kegeily region, early 20th century, 13914 KP, 250x148 cm
Warp and weft: three white cotton
threads, depressed
Pile: wool
Knot: symmetric, tied on the upper row of warps
Primary pattern: combinations of diamonds, triangles, horns, etc.
Colors: white (ground), red, dark blue, black, yellow, brown
Comment: combined techniques

In the collection there are several pieces which have highly artistic features, for example, karshin N-428l III. In its field there are two rows of karshin gols, 6x2. Between them there are motifs that consist of hornlike scrolls. One border has a meander pattern. The dyes are all natural.
On the back of the karshin, one can see the balance, clarity, and precise execution of patterns which are related to the proportions of the warp and weft threads. The wool is of good quality with a sheen and silkiness, showing proper selection of the wool before dyeing, deep and strong natural dye tints, smooth and evenly clipped pile, and crispness of patterns. All contribute to the creation of a masterpiece.

Figure 8. (24) N-4294 111 Ak baskur, tent band, Kegeily region, late 18th-early 20th century, 13916 KP, 1200x65 cm
Warp and weft: white cotton
Pile: wool
Knot: symmetric, tied on the upper row of warps
Primary pattern: combinations of stars, triangles, diamonds, horns, etc.
Colors: white (ground), dark blue, dark brown, light brown, red
Comment: combined techniques

The same high quality is seen in karshin N-1621, which also is woven with blue and olive-green silk.

According to Zhdanko, (11, p. 390) there is a pattern which is found only in karshins. In the collection there are three karshins with this pattern. It is a big diamond, which contains horn scrolls, small diamonds, triangles, and crosses. Pairs of horns serve as secondary patterns. In our opinion, based on the materials in our collection, the above mentioned pattern can also be found in eshik kases.
One of the typical, main patterns of eshik kases is a large diamond which contains a smaller one with two horns. The larger diamond is surrounded with horn scrolls. We can called this pattern on eki muyiz (12 horns) N-1623. Analogues of this pattern can be seen in the Yomud sekiz gochak or in the Fergana Valley Kirgyz rug pattern kaikalak (idol). The latter word has a common origin with the khaikal or kheikel, the name of Turkmen and Karakalpak silver amulets. In former times these amulets probably contained an idol, and later, pages from the Koran.

Fig. 9. N-4311 III Karshin, pile rug, Kegeily region, mid 19th century, 13955 KP, 102x53 cm
Warp: dark brown wool and white cotton
Weft: dark brown and light brown camelhair, one shoot
Pile: wool
Knot: asymmetric, 1,600 per dm2
Primary pattern: karshin gol
Colors: dark brown (field), white, dark blue, blue, red

The main part of the above mentioned pattern is a large diamond with scrolls. This element is widely used in patterns of Central Asian rugs, embroideries, wood carvings, and other forms of folk art. For example, we find it in the Tekke secondary pattern dyrnak gol, sekiz kelle, sekiz gochak, in the Yomud sekiz kelle, and in the Choudor and Igdyr kyrk shokh In Moshkova's opinion, the diamond originally was a stylized image of the human face and is of a cult origin. (Moshkova, 17, p. 90).
A few words about the technical and artistic features of the rugs in the collection. Most of them are made in pile technique. Thirty-six articles have symmetric knots and one shoot of weft. Six articles have symmetric knots and two shoots of weft. Two articles have asymmetric knots and one shoot of weft. One piece has asymmetric knots and two shoots of weft.

Fig. 10. N-4313 111 Karshin, pile rug (fragment), Kegeily region, late 19th-early 20th century, 13958 KP, 45x24 cm
Warp: dark brown wool, light brown camelhair
Weft: light brown camelhair, two shoots
Pile: wool
Knot: symmetric, 2,000 per dm2
Primary pattern: field divided into stripes with geometric patterns, diamonds containing triangles and horned scrolls
Colors: brown, reds dark blue, red

According to S.M. Dudin, the warp of Karakalpak rugs is a natural dark gray or gray color (Dudin, 4, p. 141). But most of our rugs (38 articles) have warps made of natural, dark brown wool. The warp is made of two tightly plied threads; one of them is made of pure wool, and the second is thinner and consist of two threads. The first one of these is dark brown wool and the second is white cotton, barely spun. We suppose that white cotton yarn was used for strengthening the warp but time has destroyed it, and we can now see only small white specks, almost invisible among the dark brown threads, which remained in good condition. In some rugs the warp consists of two different wool threads, dark brown and light brown or dark brown and white. The weft of most rugs is made of two beige wool threads, which are more depressed than those of the warp and probably made of camelhair.

The knot density of the articles is not high: 1200-2400 knots per dm2. The pile height is 4-4.5 cm.

Fig. 11. (36) N-4317 III Karshin, pile rug, Kegeily region, 1918, 13963 KP, 106x36 cm
Warp: brown wool and white cotton
Weft: light brown camelhair, one shoot
Pile: wool Knot: symmetric, 2,100 per dm2
Primary pattern: tai tuyak
Colors: brown (field), white, red (2), blue, olive -green

The patterns are more pictorial than graphic. They are not so strictly correct nor definite. Their outlines are smooth and roundish. Such features result from the technical features. Compared to Turkmen rugs, Karakalpak rugs have more voluminous warps and wefts, lower knot density, and higher pile.

Most of the rugs were made in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. Most of the dyes are synthetic; that is why their coloration is partially destroyed due to fading. The condition of the articles is not good. Nevertheless some rugs produce a very nice impression. The best Karakalpak rugs possess a special charm and understatement, and mysterious and polysemous pattern. (Zhdanko, 15, pp. 60-61).

The rugs in the collection, besides having general "Asiatic features", also have special "Central Asiatic" artistic features:
1. Monumental patterns. Usually Central Asian patterns of carpets and felts are large, with clear details and repetition;
2. Medallions form the basis of design. Pattern elements are placed symmetrically on one axis;
3. The medallions have diagonal coloration, which produces an effect of slight movement;
4. The rug palette is strict, modest, and has a limited quantity of colors and patterns.

Nevertheless, colors and patterns produce an impression of richness and variety, which is possible due to the alternation of main colors and pattern elements and due to their skillful combination, including the use of the background color in pattern motifs. All of this creates a unity, and harmony of colors and patterns.

Fig. 12. (41) N-1611nv Karshin, pile rug Kegeily region, early 20th century 13906 KP, 93x31cm
Warp: dark brown wool and white cotton
Weft: light brown camelhair one shoot
Pile: wool
Knot: symmetric 2,800 per dm2
Primary pattern: tai tuyak
Colors: brown (field), brown, red, white

In conclusion, one can say that Karakalpak rugs have a special place in the entire collection of rugs in the Museum of Oriental Art. They have some common features with other Central Asian rugs but, at the same time, they are quite specific, have their ow n artistic language, and their own artistic means.
Finally, some words about the relationship of Karakalpak, Uzbek, and Turkmen rugs. In particular, we can point to the resemblance of Turkmen Uzbek karchins and Karakalpak karchins in dimensions, patterns, and technique, while Turkmen karchins are quite different articles concerning their main features.
In the museums of Nukus, Moscow, and St. Petersburg, we have numerous examples of small rugs (karshins, eshik kases, khurjins and others) made by Karakalpaks. But there are very
few articles which were called by various authors Karakalpak khali or carpets. One such article with the kalkan nuska as its main pattern was attributed by Bogolyubov as a Karakalpak carpet, but several authors disproved it, pointing out that such carpets had been made by Nurata Turkmen Uzbeks. We also join in this latter view.
There are at least a pair of other rugs which pretend to be authentic Karakalpak carpets (khali). One of them was published by G. O'Bannon (19, p. 6) The second one we saw in the collection of the State Art Museum of Karakalpakia in Nukus. It is museum No. N-6242 and is 329 x 50cm. Unfortunately, we could not investigate it in detail. We hope that, with the joint efforts of carpet connoisseurs, it will be possible to attribute these two carpets.

Fig. 13. (42) N-l620nv Karshin, pile rug, Kegeily region, 1923, 13964 KP, 124x33 cm
Warp: dark brown wool
Weft: light brown wool, one shoot
Pile: wool, white cotton, and beige silk
Knot: symmmetric, 1,750 per dm2
Primary pattern: karshin nagish
Colors: red (field), brown, white, greenish-dark blue, beige

Fig. 14. (44) N-1614nv Eshik kas, pile rug (fragment), Kegeily region, early 20th century, 13947 KP, 30x26 cm
Warp: dark brown wool, spun with red wool
Weft: light brown camelhair one shoot
Pile: wool
Knot: symmetric, 1,200 per dm2
Primary pattern: diamonds with four crosses inside; secondary design of horned scrolls
Colors: red (field), white, brown, yellow

Fig. 15.
(53) N-1623nv Eshik kas, pile rug Kegeily region, late 19th-early 20th century, 13963 KP, 112x32 cm
Warp: dark brown wool and white
Weft: light brown camelhair one shoot . Pile: wool Knot: symmetric, 1,600 per dm2
Primary pattern: on yoki muyiz
Colors: dark brown (field), light brown, dark red, dark blue

Fig. 16. (54) N-1624nv Eshik kas, pile rug, Kegeily region, 19th century, 13970 KP, 93x31 cm
Warp: brown wool and white cotton
Weft: light brown camelhair, two shoots
Pile: wool and beige silk
Knot: asymmetric, 1,320 per dm2
Primary pattern: stripes containing diamonds, triangles and horned scrolls
Colors: dark red (field), dark blue, brown, light red, white

Fig. 17. 5869 Long bag, Karakalpak or Yomud, end 19th century, acquired 1987, 95-I, 55x23 cm (21"x8")
Warp: Z,2S, gray wool
Weft: Z,2S, tan wool, 2 shoots
Pile: wool
Knot: asymmetric, right. 35x64/dm (9x15/in), 2240/dm2 (135/in2)
Primary pattern: gapyrga or pine tree
Colors: rust-brown, red, ivory, blue, blue-green, light pink-red, synthetic dyes
Edge: 3 cord selvege (2 warps/cord), blue wool
Ends: not original
Comment: attached red/blue braid and tassels: plain ivory kilim back, attached coins

Fig. 18. 5872 Kur, Karakalpak, end 19th century, acquired 1987, 98-1, 235xl0 cm (7'2x4')
Warp: Z,2S, cotton
Weft: Z,2S, cotton
Pile: wool
Knot: symmetric, over alternate warps, not visible on back
Primary pattern: various in pile
Colors: bright red, brown, olive-green, ivory, yellow, orange, gold Edge: overcast, red wool
Ends: beginning end cut; finishing end 10" round braided fringe
Comment: attached endless knot macrame wool fringe in red/blue/brown with wrapped sections; this is probably half of a tent band as this type typically have an unpattemed center section about 30- 50cm (l'- l 1/2') that was wrapped around the wooden structure of the yurt


List of Publications Used for This Article
1. Allamurateva, A., Karakalpakskaya narodnaya vishivka (Karakalpak Embroidery), Nukus, 1977

2. Bekmurateva, A. T., Byt i semya karakalpakov v proshlem i nastoyashem (Everyday Life and Family of Karakalpaks in Past and Present), Nukus, 1970
2a. Beresneva, A. L., Karakalpak Carpet Wares, Moscow, 1994 (Text in Russian)

3. Bogolyubov, A., A., Kovroviye izdeliya sredney azii (Rugs of Central Asia), St. Petersburg, 1908-1909

4. Dudin, S. M., "Kovroviye izdeliya sredney azii" (Rugs of Central Asia), Sbornik muzeya antropologii i etnografii, tom 3, Leningrad, 1928

5. Felkerzam, A., "Starinniye kovri sredney azii" (Old Carpets of Central Asia), Starie godi, Okt.-Dek., 1914

6. Gosudarstvenniy muzei iskusstv karakalpakskoi SSR (Album: State Art Museum of Karakalpak SSR), Moscow, 1976

7. Ivanov, P. P., Ocherk istorii karakalpakov/Materiali po istorii karakalpakov i karakalpakii (An Essay of Karakalpak History/Historical Materials on Karakalpaks and Karakalpakia), Moscow-Leningrad, 1935

8. Zhdanko, T. A., "Ocherki istoricheskoi etnografii karakalpakov" (Essays on Historical Ethnography of Karakalpaks), Trudi instituta etnografii A.N. SSSR, tom IX, M-L, 1950

9. Zhdanko, T. A., Karakalpaki horezmskogo oazisa (Karakalpaks of the Khwarazm Oasis), Trudi horezmskoy archeologo-etnograficheskoy ekspeditsii, tom I, 1952

10. Zhdanko, T. A., "Izucheniye narodnogo ornamentalnogo iskusstva karakalpakov" (Researchs on Karakalpak Ornamental Folk Art), Sovetskaya etnografiya, No. 4, 1955

11. Zhdanko, T. A., "Narodnoe ornamentalnoe iskusstvo karakalpakov" (Karakalpak Ornamental Folk Art), Trudi horezmskoi archeologo-etnograficheskoi ekspeditsii, tom 3, Moscow, 1958

12. Zhdanko, T. A., "Karakalpakskaya epicheskaya poema 'Kyrk kyz' kak istoriko-etnograficheskiy istochnik" (Karakalpak Epic Poem 'Kyrk kyz' as a Historical-Ethnographical Source), Kratkiye soobsheniya instituta istorii i etnografii A.N. SSSR, vipusk XXX, Moscow, 1958

13. Zhdanko, T. A., "Osnovniye problem i etnicheskoi istorii i etnografii karakalpakov" (Main Problems of Karakalpak Ethnic History and Ethnography), Doklad po opublikovannim rabotam, predstavlennim na soiskaniye uchenoi stepeni doktora istoricheskih nauk, Moscow, 1964

14. Zhdanko, T. A., Hozyaystvo karakalpakov v XIX-nachale XX v. (Economy of Karakalpaks in 19th-early 20th century), Tashkent, 1972

15. Zhdanko, T. A., Hozyaystvennie i kulturniye traditsii narodov srednei azii i kazakhstana (Economic and Cultural Traditions of People of Central Asia and Kazakhstan), Moscow, 1975

16. Morozova, A. S., Kultura domashnego bita karakalpakov nachala XX veka. K voprosu etnogeneza (Cultural Aspects of Karakalpaks Everyday Life. In Connection with the Problem of Ethnogenesis), Tashkent, 1955

17. Moshkova, V. G., Kovri narodov sredney azii kontsa XIX-nachala XX v. (Carpets of the People of Central Asia in Late 19th-Early 20th Centuries), Tashkent, 1970

18. Nurmuhamedov, M. K., Zhdanko T. A., and Kamalov, S. K., Karakalpaki. Kratkiy ocherk istorii s drevneyshih vremen do nashih dney (Karakalpaks. A Short Essay of History from Ancient Times Until Today), Tashkent, 1971

19. O'Bannon, G. W., "Bogolyubov and the Karakalpak Attribution", Oriental Rug Review, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1990

20. Teselkin, A. S., "Hunting for Karakalpak Carpets", Oriental Rug Review, vol. 10, No. 3, 1990

21. Tsareva, E. G., "Thirty Rug Masterpieces from the Collection of S. M. Dudin", Oriental Rug Review, vol. 11, no. 1, 1990

With thanks to Oriental Rug Review, and Ron O'Callaghan for permission to reproduce this article here.

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