Searching For Iranian Bands

Photo 1: Woven band with peacock design.

During my several decades as a tablet weaver, I always was struck by the beauty of Persian bands with images of birds like peacocks, parrots and other birds, on trees of life or bouquets with tulips, carnations, and complicated vines, which I liked to reproduce. On that purpose, and hoping to give others the pleasure of doing the same, I set up the design diagrams of all those bands which I could find. That were not many: about fifteen but no more. At that time I did not, and still do not know much about the symbolic meaning of the woven images, but apparently all pictorial motifs have some deeper meaning that goes beyond their aesthetic attraction.

A very special function of those bands

While searching for those bands, I learned a little more about them.

Up to the beginning of the twentieth century, they were given to young women in bourgeois families at their marriage or for the birth of their first child They were called bande-gondaq and they were meant to hold the first clothes of the newly born; not the wet diapers but the dry clothes with which formerly babies were kept motionless, as we have seen them depicted in older children’s books being safely carried through the air by the stork. I understand that those bands also were used to carry the child about before it could walk safely.

Photo 2: Woven band with script,
translates as “Segenswunsch” or
“Benediction”

However, those band-e-gondaq had still another very important function: they had to convey blessings and good wishes for the infant and to shield him or her against all sorts of evil influences. Very often, words like:

‘mubarak bad’ = ‘be blessed’ or: ‘dolet bad’ = ‘wealth and well being’ (meaning: ‘be endowed with material and spiritual gifts’) are woven on these bands.

On one of the band-e-gondaq of the MoserCollection in the Historical Museum in Berne, Switzerland, is a formula clearly meant to protect the infant from evil, probably the evil eye. As far as I remember, it read like: “The one who wishes you evil shall suffer this and that – – ??” ( namely a mishap to take his eyesight).

Annelies Hart, a Netherlands weaving friend who got her information from some Iranian lady, reports that only well to do-families could afford to commission a weaver to produce a silken band with texts and images. In less well off families, plain straps of a cheaper material may have been used, and the blessings and good wishes were written on paper and tucked under the straps.

An exceptionally rich band

Fritz Langauer from Vienna kindly let me analyze a gorgeous band-e-gondaq which must have come from a rich family, for it measures more than three meters, is lavishly adorned with beautiful images and in addition to the customary blessings and wishes has longer texts, which I try to render here in English from the translation into German by Claudia Ott from the Humboldt University in Berlin.

“Fortune and salvation”
“In God’s almightiness”
“While weaving the belt, I hardly could wait to see how pretty and wonderful it will lie on your waist, so that I lose my senses”
“In Health”
“In the power of God”
“You beautiful one, you chosen one, the belt shall bring you happiness”
“This belt is fit for your harmonious body”
“Much bliss and blessing”
“Fortune and salvation”
“I am so proud of the achievement of my weaving manufacture”
“and that God’s mercy was within me while I was weaving”

Azadolah Serkesch, Master weaver (Mullah) Date: 9.5.129 (AD 1875)

“In the time of King Nazer ed din the Great the belt was woven”
“The belt was woven by Ali Chán”

Fig 1. Weaving diagram for “Benediction”

To me, it is not quite clear who actually turned the tablets: Azadolah Serkesh or Ali Chán. Nor do I grasp whether the impatient admiration for the lady with the harmonious body comes from the weaver or from the one who paid him or possibly from both of them.

In any case, all those texts show that this ‘band-e-gondaq is a masterpiece, from which in general it can be inferred that such bands are not something which is thrown away, once the infants, for
whose birth it had been produced, had grown up.

Beautiful images in a simple technique

As far as the Western tablet weaver is concerned, I think it likely that he is more impressed by the wealth of images on this band than by the texts. A few samples of both texts and images follow here. Who likes to see all the images, and to weave them will find all illustrations and detailed design diagrams in the book TABLET WEAVING MAGIC. Although that book was published more than twelve years ago, there is still a steady number of tablet weavers wanting to make use of the design diagrams and thanking me for the pleasure they had in using it.

Where have all the bands gone to?

In the course of my studies and my search for those Persian bands, I noticed with astonishment that they seem to be known only in a few countries. The greatest number of them are owned by the Historical Museum in Bern, Switzerland where they form part of the Moser Collection. Henry Moser must have obtained them late in the nineteenth century while he traveled through Asia, instead of selling Moser watches all over the Russian Empire, so as his father had wanted him to do. The next collection of importance was the one compiled by Professor Jacobsthal in Berlin, which got lost during the second world war. Then there are still some odd ones in museums in Switzerland, in Krefeld, Germany, in Warsaw and a gorgeous one with silver thread and silk in the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. The others of which I know are privately owned or in the hands of dealers in the US and in Austria. However, I don’t know of a single one in the UK, although just there exists a notable number of active tablet weavers. Nor do I know of any such bands in France or Belgium, in Italy, Spain or Portugal, Greece, or all of Southeast Europe. Nevertheless, I am convinced that travelers have gone to Iran from these countries, too, and that came back with all sorts of souvenirs among which may have been some band-e-gondaq.

 

An appeal for help

My great hope is that some readers of TWIST may know of some museum or some private collector who owns such a treasured band, and that he or she would help me to contact the owner, thus enabling me to lift other hitherto undiscovered treasures and to make them accessible to everyone.

Otfried Staudigel
Hoeppnerstrasse 108
D-47809 Krefeld
Germany

Copyright © Otfried Staudigal

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