About the Antique Rugs of the Future Project

Sheep Breeds of Azerbaijan

Sorting, Washing, Carding, Spinning

"The advantages of handspun yarn to machine spun yarn"

Rediscovery of Ancient Natural Dyes
Our Natural Dyestuffs


Difference between synthetically and naturally dyed rugs

Weaving and Finishing Steps

Galleries of ARFP Caucasian Azerbaijani Rugs



Antique Kuba Dragon flatweave rug, third quarter 19th century, Northern Kuba Region, North East Azerbaijan. Sold at Rippon Boswell, Sale of 5th May 1990, # 147, for DM 60,320

465 This is the classic dragon soumak composition. The earliest recorded example, in the Wher collection, is dated 1223 A.H. (A.D. 1808/9) and other examples are known with dates only slightly later in the 19th century. Despite the usual warnings against placing too much faith in the dates found on Caucasian village weavings, the Wher collection piece is certainly of sufficient quality to give us some confidence in the authenticity of its date. It has a particularly beautiful range of colours—a light red ground, ivory, pale blue and very pale green (leaves), and a frequent use of an unusual shade of light aquamarine blue. Its composition is much more open and freely drawn than that found on our 464, and it has the usual outer red-ground running dog guard. An interesting point, however, is that the dragons on the Wher carpet have already reached a very exaggerated degree of stylisation. perhaps even more so than those on the undated, but obviously early, example in the Metropolitan Museum (Dimand, Oriental Rugs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. fig. 242), the latter having a main border composition related to those seen on our 463 and 467, and which is found on sournaks with a wide variety of field compositions. The Metropolitan Museum example is very close both in field and border compositions to the rug illustrated by Schurmann in Caucasian Rugs (pl. 119), another example with exceptionally beautiful colour. A third example closely related to the Metropolitan Museum rug was sold at auction by Lefevre in London on 26 November, 1976 (lot 17); this had harsher colours and more spikey drawing than the Schürmann piece. Another rug sold by the same auctioneers on 9 February, 1979. had the same wide spacing as the Wher example, as well as a very similar colour range (although its main border was of the same type, but slightly more ornate, as the Metropolitan Museum rug). The present soumak has dragons no more stylised than those seen on the Wher and Metropolitan Museum examples; indeed, the bottom pair, with yellow bodies, dark blue heads and light blue legs, which flanks the eagle medallions between the two complete series of interlocking leaves, is, if anything, slightly less stylised. Note also the pair of two opposing small blue and red motifs seen clearly a quarter of the way down each side of the bottom large white-ground leaf, motifs which have been interpreted as mini-renderings of the dragon and phoenix combat. The place of manufacture of this group of Soumak rugs probably does not differ from rugs of other designs in the same technique, many of which, as can be seen from the following examples, have similar borders, minor details of composition and a closely allied colour range. John Mumford, in one of the most influential early 20th century carpet books, Oriental Rugs, remarked in the preface to the fourth edition of 1915, that in the Shirvan region there had been an independent Khanate of Soumaki, which had existed until the Russian military conquests in the first half of the 19th century. In the map found in an early 19th century travel book by the Hon. George Keppel, Personal Narrative of Travels in Babylonia, Assyria, Media and Scythia in the Year 1824, extensively quoted by Jean Lefevre in the introduction to his book Caucasian Carpets, we find marked in the Shirvan area the name Schamachin, which in Schurmann's map in Caucasian Rugs, has become Soumak. In the text of his book, Keppel describes 'Nova Shumakia' — "Its present possessors, the Russians, are repairing the ravages inflicted by Aga Mohumud, who wrested it from the Tartars in the latter end of the last century." The town
is built near the ruins of another, much older, own of the same name, "once the seat of government of a Tartar prince . . . ". We recall that some current authorities incline to the view in the dragon pile-knotted rugs of the 16th and 17th centuries were probably not made in the town of Kuba, to which they were attributed by an older generation of writers, but in royal workshops established by the Khans further south. The town of Shusha in the Karabagh has been mentioned in this context but Soumak, not so far to the north, seems to offer itself as just as likely a candidate. Not a few Soumak rugs have many details of composition in common with pile-knotted rugs attributed to the eastern - Caucasus. Indeed, the unusual dragon soumak illustrated by Roger Gardiner in Oriental Rugs from Canadian Collections (no. 80), which would seem to be a very late example with an uncharacteristic floral ground, has an outer Seichur border, a composition not normally encountered on rugs made outside the eastern regions; it is also found on many soumaks of differing designs. The minor blue-ground wards of the present piece, with their rows of tiny flower-heads, are also characteristic features of Shirvan weaving, being found on many pile-knotted rugs from this region. Probably second half 19th century. 164 x 205 cm


Lit: Ian Bennett's Oriental Rugs Volume I
published Ian Bennett's Oriental Rugs Volume I, plate 465