Nickle Pick: Ottoman Cairene Border Fragment

Unlike artifacts of metal, clay, glass or bone, few textiles older than a couple hundred years survive.  Susceptible to wear and tear, light, damp or insects, those that have come down to us are particularly precious.

This elegant carpet represents the creative and technical skills of both Ottoman and Egyptian craftspeople.  It is speculated that weavers from Cairo were brought to Istanbul where they produced fine carpets in the Ottoman style—using the techniques associated with Mamluk carpets produced in Egypt. Whereas Ottoman carpets typically use symmetrical knots, for example, the Mamluks (and so-called Ottoman Cairene carpets) use asymmetrical knots.  These are worked in wool on a silk foundation.  Even though you cannot see or feel the silk, this technique facilitated the very fine details and sinuous curves associated with the Nickle Ottoman Cairene fragment.

NG.2014.110.000 is likely a fragment of border from a much larger carpet.  At some point in its history, it was pieced together with other fragments to create a small, seemingly complete carpet. In fact, the sides are added and the entire piece is finished with an edge stitch that is not original.  This textile is closely related to a number of other fragments, including some at the Textile Museum in Washington DC, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and a number of pieces sold at auction and presumably in private collections.

The centre panel of the Nickle fragment features three graceful blossoms that may be hatayi (stylized lotus blossoms) surrounded by flowing arabesques, cloudbands and smaller buds and leaves.  The inner and outer guard borders feature the chintamani design—an Ottoman court design widely used between the 15-17th C.  Chintamani involves three balls arranged in a triangle with (usually) two cloudbands or waves (Stone, 1997).

It is important to note that all the colours would have been derived from natural sources—though without testing we cannot definitively know which sources.  Synthetic dyestuffs were not invented until the late 19th C.  Dyestuffs therefore may have included insect dyes (lac or cochineal) as well as plant dyes (madder, indigo, spurge, gall nuts etc.).  Some colours would have been achieved through over-dying yarns (i.e. indigo (blue) dyed wool later dyed with spurge (yellow) produces green).  Furthermore, metallic elements were likely used as mordants as evidenced by the corroded crimson wool.

The Nickle Ottoman Cairene is a spectacular textile that illustrates Ottoman court taste, style and technical ability not to mention the historic confluence of different traditions.  It belongs to a special group of textiles found across international borders.

Michele Hardy, Curator

Ottoman Cairene Border Fragment
Turkey, circa 1600, 70 x 155.5 cm, Wool, silk, cotton,NG.2014.110.000, Jean and Marie Erikson Collection, Nickle Galleries, University of Calgary.