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TIOH Art Tour: Judeo-Turcoman Wedding Blanket 

  • Unknown Artist 
  • Bukhara (Uzbekistan) c. 1880 
  • Silk Embroidery 
  • Gift of Gary Bart and Family 

9’ x 6’ (approximate) Late Nineteenth Century Central Asian / Turcoman silk hand embroidered wedding blanket. Overall floral pattern on beige linen background containing various and different motifs and medallions, believed to originate from the Jewish Community of Bokhara. Framed in wood and Plexiglas. 

This oversized cotton blanket is typical of a type of embroidered dowry textile made in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and other Central Asian countries. For centuries, while Central Asian horsemen, from Genghis Khan to Timur, from the Ottomans to the Moghuls of India, were thundering across Asia and Europe, nomadic women from these regions tended mulberry trees and used lush silk threads to embroider unique and exquisite dowry pieces. The oldest surviving examples are from the late 18th and early 19th centuries but certainly have older precedents. In the early 15th century, Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, a Castilian ambassador to the court of Timur, left detailed descriptions of embroideries that were probably forerunners of this form.  

Perhaps better known for carpets and woven textiles, the iconography of Turcoman weaving is not typically based on easily identified images. The motifs are, for the most part, not representational or are so highly stylized as to make identifying the objects they depict a matter of guesswork.  

To the contrary, the typical garden motifs in Turcoman embroideries, such as in this blanket, are easily recognized. It is a tradition rooted in the belief that their intricate and beautiful needlework on either a cotton or silk base provides magical protection through the natural experiences of birth, childhood, and marriage. Many are closely related to talismanic forms also found in jewelry. In this example, one can easily identify many fruit and garden motifs. Tulips, roses, carnations, irises, vines, birds, and pomegranates abound.  

The first impression of this piece is one of vibrant color, warmth, and energy. Upon closer look, the details of the needle work and design are staggering and can be identified as chain stitch embroidery technique. While this piece was acquired in Bukhara, this technique is most closely associated with embroidery from or near Samarkand. It is also quite easy to discern the traditional method of construction employed here as well. Several lengths of cotton were stitched together, and the overall pattern traced onto the whole. Then, individual women embroidered each section separately, only to rejoin and stitch together, creating the whole. There are many places where you can see the pattern did not align, the pattern was missed, or additional stitches had to be added. We can see that the embroidery itself is uneven and clearly the work of several hands. Notwithstanding what we see as craft or technical process, the overall impact is awe-inspiring while the detail and workmanship draws us deeper and deeper into its fantastic world. The more we study it, the more we are tangled in its endless variety and beauty. 

Compare the design elements here; including paisleys, birds, and arabesques to those employed in the Persian ketubot and rimonim outside the Chapel and draw your own conclusions about cultural interaction amongst the Jews and wider communities along the classical silk route. 

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