Trade with the orient in the early modern age and the formation of identity of the transylvanian saxon

The ottoman carpets of the protestant city church A. B. in Bistrița (Romania) in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum

Duration: October 2017 – September 2020
Funding: German Research Foundation as part of the Transottomanica. Eastern European–Ottoman–Persian Mobility Dynamics priority programme

The research project is investigating the origin and history of use of the Ottoman carpets of the 16th to 18th century, held by the GNM since 1952 as a loan from the protestant church A.C. in Bistriţa/Transylvania.

Importance in the early modern era

From the middle of the 15th century, the carpets, produced in Anatolia, arrived in Transylvania via trading routes. As economically important luxury goods, they are evidence of the intensive economic connections and cultural transfer between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe, the hub of which was Transylvania, a region at times under Ottoman suzerainty. With the help of an art-history and art-technology examination of a representative selection of 20 carpets and the evaluation of written sources such as customs registers, the project aims to date the objects and determine their places of origin in more detail, enabling trading periods and routes to be identified more accurately.

As status symbols and gifts, the carpets belonged to the culture of representation of the German nobility and middle class and the guilds in Transylvania. From the Reformation onwards, they usually found their way into protestant churches as donations. Despite the Islamic roots, particularly of the prayer rugs, they were used in liturgy and ceremonies in ways that we currently know little about. The project promises to reveal insights into this from sources such as inventories, sexton records and wills. Historic inscriptions and graffiti on the carpets will also be examined.

Identity-forming role in the 19th and early 20th century

The project also looks at the fate of the carpets in the 19th and early 20th century. In the first half of the 19th century, they were little valued by the members of the church, as can be seen from their current state, and were in some cases cut up and used as bench cushions. Nevertheless, they had 
become part of the German-speaking culture in Transylvania, and took on an identity-forming role for the Transylvanian Saxons, who were seeking to use their awareness of history to set themselves apart in the wake of Romanian nationalisation ambitions in the 19th century. Once the world of art history started to develop an interest in Oriental carpets, the carpets were - as of 1907 and based on museum concepts - often used to decorate entire walls of protestant churches. They were exhibited there as testimonies to Transylvania’s period of economic prosperity in the 15th to 17th century, which was marked by trade relationships with the Ottoman Empire.

Using the Anatolian carpets, the project will seek to illuminate important aspects of the early modern trans-Ottoman exchange of goods and the use and importance of the objects in Transylvania, situated in the border region of the Ottoman Empire. The project expects to gain new understandings of the trade with carpets themselves, which were particularly valued as luxury items within the groups of goods from the Ottoman Empire, as well as their (attributed) importance and re-use in Transylvania, where they introduced a piece of Ottoman culture and where they in turn became part of the Saxon culture.


Dr. Anja Kregeloh (Head of the Project, Art Historian)
Dr. Stephanie Armer (Historian)
Eva Bergt M.A. (Art Technologist)

Scientific Infrastructure

Head of the Collection Textiles and Jewellery: Dr. Adelheid Rasche 
Institute for Art Technology and Conservation: Oliver Mack (Head of the Department), Studio for Textiles
Department for Cultural and Museum Informatics: Siegfried Krause (Head of the Department), Mark Fichtner (Scientific Infrastructure)
Photographic Services: Department for Photographic Services of the GNM
Scientific Management and Marketing: Dr. Andrea Langer (Head of the Department)

Further objects of research

Material/Technik: Wolle; geknüpft
Datierung: 2. Hälfte 18. Jahrhundert; Anatolien (Gördes)

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