Kurt Erdmann

Kurt Erdmann
Born (1901-09-09)9 September 1901
Hamburg, Germany
Died 30 September 1964(1964-09-30) (aged 63)
Berlin, Germany
Nationality German
Occupation Art Historian, Head of Pergamon Museum 1958-1964
Known for Work on Oriental rugs

Kurt Erdmann (9 September 1901, Hamburg - 30 September 1964, Berlin) was a German art historian who specialized in Sasanian and Islamic art. He is known for his work on the history of the Oriental rug. One of the former directors of the Pergamon museum, Berlin, he was part of the "Berlin school" of History of Islamic Art. Kurt Erdmann's work focused on the History of Islamic Art. One of his main interests, and subject of his best-known scientific publications, was the art history of Oriental rugs, which he established as a subspecialty within his scientific discipline.


Erdmann started studying German literature in 1919, but soon developed a deeper interest in European art history. His PhD thesis in 1927, tutored by Erwin Panofsky, was about European architecture. He then went on to an apprenticeship at the State Museum in Berlin, where he was invited by Friedrich Sarre to join the work on his publication, together with Hermann Trenkwald, about ancient oriental carpets.[1] Erdmann's scientific interest remained with oriental rugs throughout his entire career.

From 1958 until his death Erdmann was Head of the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, a department of the State Museums of Berlin, today the Pergamon Museum. He also worked as a professor at the universities of Berlin, Hamburg, Bonn, Cairo, and Istanbul (1951-1957). Erdmann was a member of the German Archaeological Institute. As Head of the Berlin Pergamon Museum, he was responsible for the reconstruction of the Berlin museum collections after World War II. The erection of the Berlin Wall further disrupted the collections of the museums of the divided city. Erdmann worked on the planning for the new Museum of Islamic Art, then in Dahlem, West Berlin, until his death.[2]


Kurt Erdmann was the fourth in a succession of directors of the Museum of Islamic Art, now the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. Established by Wilhelm von Bode, whose work was continued by Friedrich Sarre and Ernst Kühnel, they became the protagonsts of the "Berlin School" of the History of Islamic Art. The Berlin school developed the "terminus ante quem" dating method, based on reproductions of Oriental carpets in Renaissance painting.

Erdmann was the first to describe the "four social layers" of carpet production (nomadic, village, town and court manufacture). He recognized the traditions of village and nomad carpet designs as a distinct artistic tradition on its own, and described the process of stylization by which, over time, elaborate manufactory designs and patterns were integrated into the village and nomadic weaving traditions. Until Erdmann published his studies, art historians influenced by the nineteenth century "Vienna School" around Alois Riegl used to understand the process of pattern migration from court and town to village and nomad as a degeneration. Consequently, art historians focused more on the elaborate manufactory rug designs, which they saw as the most authentic. Erdmann was among the first to draw attention to the village, tribal, and nomadic rugs as a distinct and genuine form of artistic expression.[3]

Erdmann also established the structural analysis as a means to determine the historical framework of rug weaving traditions within the Islamic world.[3] The replacement of floral and foliate ornaments by geometrical designs, and the substitution of the earlier "infinite repeat" by large, centered compositions of ornaments, occurring during the turn between the fifteenth and sixteenth century was first described by Erdmann, and termed the "pattern", or "carpet design revolution".[4]

While oriental rugs and Sasanian art were his two main fields of interest, Erdmann also worked on a variety of other subjects, including Achaemenid art, and Turkish roadside inn architecture. His work at the Berlin museum resulted in publications on groups and single works of pre-Islamic and Islamic art, including detailed descriptions of acquisitions made by the Berlin Museum.[5] Erdmanns books are still cited by present-time textbooks on oriental rugs.

Major publications




  1. Sarre, Friedrich; Trenkwald, Herrmann (1926). Alt-orientalische Teppiche: herausgegeben vom Osterreichischen Museum für Kunst und Industrie. Vienna: Karl W. Hiersemann.
  2. Ettinghausen, Richard (1965). "Kurt Erdmann". Der Islam. 41: 253–260. doi:10.1515/islm.1965.41.1.253.
  3. 1 2 Erdmann, Kurt (1977). Pinner, R.: Editorial to "The history of the early Turkish carpet." by K. Erdmann (1977 English ed. of the original, 1957 German ed.). London: Oguz Pr. ISBN 9780905820026.
  4. Erdmann, Kurt (1965). Der Orientalische Knüpfteppich. tr. C. G. Ellis as Oriental Carpets: An Essay on Their History, New York, 1960. (3rd ed.). Tübingen: Verlag Ernst Wasmuth. pp. 30–32.
  5. Aslanapa, Oktay; Naumann, Rudolf (1969). Forschungen zur Kunst Asien : in Memoriam Kurt Erdmann, 9. September 1901-30. September 1964 (in German). Istanbul: Istanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi, Türk ve Islâm Sanati Kürsüsü. ISBN 9783774904194.
  6. Erdmann, Kurt (1965). Der Orientalische Knüpfteppich. tr. C. G. Ellis, New York, 1960. (3rd ed.). Tübingen: Verlag Ernst Wasmuth. pp. 30–32.
  7. Erdmann, Kurt (1970). Seven Hundred Years of Oriental Carpets. Berkeley, California: University of California Press (translated from the German Siebenhundert Jahre Orientteppich by May H. Beattie and Hildegard Herzog). ISBN 9780520018167.
  8. Erdmann, Kurt (1977). The History of the Early Turkish Carpet (tr. R. Pinner) (1st ed.). London: Oghuz Press. ISBN 9780905820026.
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