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rug no longer available Caucasian Shirvan rug, 'honcha' (tray) medallion, ca. 1900

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Caucasian Shirvan rug, 'honcha' (tray) medallion, ca. 1900—click to see enlarged view


I rarely take interest in rugs with synthetic dyes, and I am generally not particulary interested in the 'perfect' Caucasian rug, even as I recognise its well-crafted beauty. However, I was intrigued by the design of this fine and thin Shirvan with a so-called honcha (or tray) medallion design, even though the red in the medallion seems clearly synthetic, the brown corners show corrosion, and the darker red field is dotted with small reweaves exhibiting fading to various degrees.

A closely related rug is shown in Kerimov et. al. "Rugs and Carpets from the Caucasus", no. 62. This rug is described as a 'Gabala pile carpet from the village of Hazry, Kutkashen district, Azerbaijan'.

The shape of the honcha medallion has quizzical hooks reaching outwards like improbable limbs of an unwieldy insect too heavy to be turned or moved by them. In all, there are six design layers (or a few more, depending on how you count).

  1. The bottommost brown field has hooks intruding into the red field from the sides, seemingly reversing figure and ground in those places.
  2. On top of it, the abrashed red field fills up most of the space, with hooks curling over the brown corners.
  3. Next, the honcha or tray medallion, outlined in blue and black, with its fat checkerboard-adorned hooks, its thin hooks, and its tapered necks along the vertical axis which lead to its one huge pendant (and to the remnant of the pendant at the top, of which only the base visible), the pendants ending in a double armed form that remind of the Anatolian eli belinde motif.
  4. On top of the honcha medallion floats a light blue beautifully delineated octagon shape, which is slightly indented as if echoing the ragged outline of the honcha medallion enclosing it.
  5. One further up, the octagon carries an elongated brown blossom shape, sharply outlined in peach and black, which forms eight somewhat irregular petals, into each of which is inset a while blossom, the top and bottom ones surrounded by a collar and alluding to a funnel-like opening into the surrounding blue octagon.
  6. Finally, the centre of the blossom holds an elonated and again sharply delineated rose-coloured octacon, in the way a ring holds a large pink diamond. Its geometric adornment seems to echo en miniature the architecture of the honcha medallion, the pendants represented by tiny blue triangles; even a tiny blue octagon reappears in its centre, and within that, a tiny red octagon (the diamond again), just three knots wide, which constitutes the centre of gravity for this stunning design.

Why all this detail? What are then the images for? Describing the design seems to cause the true visual complexity to unfold. The words unlock a visual syntax that organises the character of form, which has something distinctly warped, camp, gothic and unlikely about it. I am drawn to calling this character a blend of the hilarious and the sinister, or of something sublime and something unspeakably gross. In one word, this rug is perverse. Again, I am aware that the work of interpretation adds much if not most to the given form that invites it. Its fantasy-unlocking potential, however, is what makes this rug so intriguing. There are not many rugs I have seen where one's perception (or appreciation) is taken on such an unexpected ride as by this piece.

One can speculate whether the original plan would have foreseen the execution of a top pendant and corners to mirror those of the bottom half, which would have led to a rug about 18 inches longer. Whether it was lack of pile wool, insufficient length of warp, weaver's fatigue or some extraneous reason that led to the seemingly arbritrary abortion of the field design we will never know. The lack of the second full pendant lends another peculiar character to the medallion design: with the rug turned upside down, the full pendant appears like a head to the medallion's body. I am aware that all this is down to my interpretation and most likely not intended. The asymmetry is echoed in a small detail, the non-symmetrical rendering of the second pair of medallion hooks extending into the red field, which curl the same way as the pair below. Was this intentional or an accident?


The rug measures 5ft.11in. x 3ft.6in. (180 x 106 cm). Semi-depressed weave (60°?), 8.v,9.h = ca. 72 dpi., symmetrical knotting. Warps Z3S white wool, wefts dark brown wool, thin, 2 shoots. The weaving is tight, the pile clipped short. Handle is firm, leathery.


The pile is good, with numerous small faded areas of repiling (see images). The brown in the bottom corners is corroded, with the foundation showing (again see images). The asbrashed, originally strongly red pile in the honcha medallion has faded to a lighter shade, which actually works to the advantage of the design, giving a stronger contrast to the dark red field. Other colours have tip-faded, e.g., the synthetic orange in the border to a light apricot shade, surely nicer than it once was. Several small damaged areas in top border, somewhat crudely repaired. Ends secured top and bottom, but damage to a few inches of top end. Extant selvages seem original. The upper part of the left selvage is damaged, the outer cord seems missing, not actually unravelling apart from the centre, but should be rewrapped perhaps.


The palette, while mostly synthetic, works well with the design and in my view has benefitted from aging; the strong synthetic reds and oranges have faded, the mottled rose shade of the honcha medallion seems now very similar to a light madder. The originally strong orange of the border is now a light apricot. The darker abrashed red ground may be madder or a mix of madder and a synthetic dye. The indigo and pleasant green are unfaded, apart from parts that have been repiled at some point, some of which have faded completely to a greyish beige.

More images

Shirvan honcha design - top half

Shirvan honcha design - top right corner

Shirvan honcha design - bottom half

Shirvan honcha design - bottom right corner

Shirvan honcha design - medallion

Shirvan honcha design - medallion closer

Shirvan honcha design - medallion detail

Shirvan honcha design - medallion blossom

Shirvan honcha design - blossom edge

Shirvan honcha design - diamond

Shirvan honcha design - pendant

Shirvan honcha design - pendant detail

Shirvan honcha design - repilings

Shirvan honcha design - selvage damage

Shirvan honcha design - hooks detail

Shirvan honcha design - pile fold

Shirvan honcha design -  back side

Last update: 30 September 2007 | Impressum—Imprint