Eastern Turkestan Rugs: Khotan, Kashgar and Yarkand, Samarkand rugs
The stylistic elements that help to identify rugs from eastern Turkestan are the relatively small number of decorative motifs, the somewhat elementary geometric language (both abstract and stylized), and the decidedly livery colors, based primarily on red, blue, and yellow in all their tonalities. Although influenced by China, western Turkestan, Persia, and India, this production area succeeded over the centuries in keeping unchanged its own tradition, which is connected to pre-Islamic cultures, primarily Buddhist but also shamanistic. The layouts used most often are the superimposed-medallions, with three medallions, full-field guls, saph (or "multiple-niche") carpets & rugs, and finally a local pomegranate-tree variety. The border decorations are extremely various, but the dominant motifs are the local trefoil, frets, and the T elements. Typical of these rugs is a brick-red strip that runs around outside the borders. The spirit of these carpets & rugs is simple and elementary but at the same time robust and livery, secure in its solid tradition handed down over centuries. In examples made since the end of the 19th century, however, this joyfulness seems clouded by new colors in pastel tints.
The knotting system is asymmetrical, with a medium-low density of knots. Cotton is usually used for the foundation, while both wool and silk are used for the pile, and metallic threads are sometimes used together with the silk. The pile is usually trimmed medium-low. The shapes are very elongated: as a general rule, the length is nearly twice that of the width.
Major Style Types In East Turkestan Carpets & Rugs.
Situated between western Turkestan and Mongolia, eastern Turkestan is today for the most part situated within the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Carpets & rugs from this region are conventionally called Samarkand rugs, from the name of the Uzbek city located on the old silk route to China that was once a major center for the gathering of rugs that were sold or exported, mostly to the West. Because of its location, Xinjiang was passed through by many peoples moving east or west and suffered many invasions by over the course of history, all of which influenced its local art without, however, damaging its fidelity to the original geometric style and to the decorations descended from pre-Islamic culture.
Rugs of this area stem from an ancient tradition datable to as early as the 3rd century A.D. The earliest examples that have survived date to the end of the 18th century and were made in specialized workshops on both vertical and horizontal looms. These rugs present singular stylistic types.
The most traditional, although not the most common, is the pomegranate-tree type, perhaps based on an ancient local design and believed to be symbolic of fertility, since those plants have abundant fruit and seeds. The field of these rugs is blue or light blue and covered by one or two intense red trees that grow from a small vase and extend upward geometric branches full of leaves and fruit. In many cases, the trees extend to the middle of field and are then repeated specularly, transforming the layout from directional to bi-directional.
The most common compositional layout, however, is that of three medallions, for this arrangement is more closely connected to the local geometric taste and was probably influenced by Buddhist symbolism. These examples, usually with red ground, are characterized by a row of three large roundish octagonal medallions, usually colored blue and bearing interior decoration of small stars, rosettes, stylized floral elements, or other geometric motifs.
Much less frequent are layouts with central medallions or repeated medallions, but the medallions are always characterized by roundich octagonal forms.
Somewhat widespread in eastern Turkestan is the saph, or "multiple-niche", layout, which probably represents an encounter between the local pre-Islamic iconographic tradition and the true Islamic tradition, since no single-niche prayer rugs have been found from this area. The niches appear in odd numbers and bear as interior decoration a stylized three of life, pomegranates, floral decorations, or the geometric "herringbone" motif.
There are also carpet types that show the influence of motifs derived from other cultural contexts, such as herati (transformed into the typical "five-bud" motif) and floral elements from Persia, cloudbands and curvilinear grids from China, bunches of stylized flowers from India, full-fieds guls from western Turkestan. These guls are transformed, however, following local taste, from octagonal medallions into round rosettes with hooked edges.
All the carpet types are completed by various kinds of borders that do not necessarily have any relationship to the primary motifs of the rugs. There are main borders with bicolor trefoil "wave" motifs, octagonal rosettes, stylized vines, or bunches of three geometric flowers arranged in rows with alternating bunches pointing in different directions. The minor borders are most often formed by geometric-abstract frets, swastikas, and T motifs.
Symbols in Chinese carpets
The ancient motifs found on Chinese carpets are decorative in only a small way, since by nature they are fundamentally symbolic. In China, the artistic language is composed primarily of symbols common to all the artistic genres and techniques. Their meaning has remained unchanged over the centuries, but interpreting them successfully is not at all easy, in part because they are a great many of them. Some have been drawn from the natural world, other from ancient local myths, and yet others from the Buddhist and Taoist religions: a small number are composed of more or less complicated abstract designs. The most common symbols are the dragon (union of the earthly and celestial forces and the emperor), the phoenix (immortality and the empress), the Fo-dog (protection from evil), lotus flower (purity and summer), the peony (respect and wealth), the stag and stork (longevity), the cloud (divine power), the mountain and water (stability on a stormy sea), the bat (fortune, since its name phonetically resembles anfu, "fortune"), the swastika (cosmic rotation), and the ideograms Shou and Fu (fortune). Typical of column carpets are the eight Buddhist symbols: the canopy (royalty), the lotus (prosperity), the umbrella) authority, good government), the shell (victory), the wheel (the route to salvation), the vase (harmony) two fish (happiness and utility), and the endless knot (longevity and destiny). There are also eight Taoist symbols: the sword (victory), the staff and gourd (healing), the fan (immortality), the basket of flowers (magic), castanets (soothing music), the flute (miracles), the lotus (prosperity), and bamboo and staffs (foresight and fortune).