Art Through Time: A Global View
Ceremony and Society Art: Woman’s Mantle (chyrpy)
The Turkmen are an ethnic group with a shared Turkic language who are first described in Central Asia in the tenth century.
In succeeding centuries, several tribes held power in the region of Turkestan until their defeat by the Russians in the 1880s. Since then, many of the once nomadic Turkmen have settled into sedentary lifestyles.
Different Turkmen tribes have both distinctive housing and dress. This type of woman’s mantle, called a chyrpy, is associated primarily with the Tekke tribe of southern Turkestan. Although it has sleeves, the chyrpy is not a jacket, but a covering worn over the head and shoulders. The sleeves themselves are vestigial and usually held together at the back of the garment with an embroidered band. Made of silk and lavishly embroidered by Tekke women, chyrpys are ceremonial garments to be worn on special occasions.
Among the Turkmen, a woman’s changing position in society is often marked by her clothing and accessories. For instance, a woman considered a bride (i.e., one who is married but has not yet given birth) will wear extraordinary amounts of jewelry, while elderly women will wear very little. Many married women also wear special headdresses. Characteristic of the Tekke, for example, are large convex headpieces called egme. The chyrpy also communicates information about a woman’s social status. A dark chyrpy like this one would be worn by a younger woman, while married or middle-aged women would wear yellow and older women would wear white.
Jeff Spurr, Islamic and Middle East Specialist, Harvard University Fine Arts Library
“In all of these societies your age was marked by your costume, your festival costume. So that amongst the Turkmen you typically had this elaborate, it was called a chyrpy, and it was an elaborate cape affair, suspended from the head, which would then have an elaborate headdress on it, with vestigial sleeves that fell down the back, and incredibly elaborate embroidery all over. But the young women preparing for her marriage would create a chyrpythat was either on a black or deep indigo ground. And when she achieved middle age, probably just when she was getting beyond her childbearing years, she would adopt a yellow-ground chyrpy, which she would then have to produce herself. And then in really old age, she would adopt a white-ground chyrpy, which are very rare, because that kind of longevity was not common, and therefore few of them needed to be made. It was a sign of august status if you lived long enough to create for yourself a white ground chyrpy. And they are incredibly scarce relative to the yellow-ground ones, which are, in turn, very scarce relative to the black- and blue-ground ones.
Most of the colors that they employed were, in some sense, locally available. There was a local madder for red. Cochineal, which creates another, slightly more brilliant red, was evidently, by the nineteenth century, available in the Tashkent area, and a couple of other areas in Uzbekistan. The yellow, which is a very prominent dye in these areas, was from the larkspur, sometimes known, for reasons beyond my knowledge, as the yellow delphinium. And the larkspur pure provided a very clear light yellow color, actually it could be quite strong, but it was really yellow. However, with an added mixture of madder, the red dye, into the dye bath, you could get a—progressively move towards a beautiful golden color. Indigo was apparently imported, from India and, therefore, had to be purchased both for urban textile production, but also out in the countryside.”
Gillow, John, and Bryan Sentence. World Textiles: A Visual Guide to Traditional Techniques. London: Thames & Hudson, 2005.
Harvey, Janet. Traditional Textiles of Central Asia. London: Thames & Hudson, 2009.
Kalter, Johannes. Arts and Crafts of Turkestan. London: Thames & Hudson, 1984.
Sumner, Christina, and Guy Petherbridge. Bright Flowers: Textiles and Ceramics of Central Asia. Aldershot, Hampshire, UK: Lund Humphries, 2004.
The Textile Museum Web site. http://www.textilemuseum.com.
“Woman’s mantle (chyrpy) [Turkmenistan, Central Asia] (1999.141).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/10/nc/ho_1999.141.htm(October 2006).