This rug belongs to an extremely rare group of carpets that were once believed to be a later and derivative continuum of Mamluk and Cairene traditions. Like Mamluk and Cairene carpets, their attribution has been strongly contested in the brief history of carpet scholarship and their precise origin still remains a mystery today. While the colouration and patterning of these carpets are reminiscent of Mamluk carpets, their structural characteristics, of 'Z' (anti-clockwise)-spun/'S' (clockwise)-plied wool similar to that found in early Anatolian and Caucasian carpets, precludes them from being part of the Mamluk/Cairene group. In the early twentieth century carpets of the Chequerboard group were identified as being from Damascus and it is this attribution, although unproven, that seems to be the best alternative unless contradictory information comes to light defining a more accurate source. Robert Pinner and Michael Franses champion a tentative Damascus origin because of Syria's former inclusion within the Mamluk Empire (explaining the visual similarities), relatively new evidence indicating Damascus based carpet production, and that the accepted dating of the Chequerboard group is consistent with references to Damascus carpets in European collection inventories (Pinner, Robert and Franses, Michael, "East Mediterranean Carpets in the Victoria & Albert Museum:" Hali, Vol. 4, no. 1, 1981, p.40).
There are approximately only thirty known examples of this type of carpet and they almost all share a somewhat similar overall design of corner triangles forming diamonds flanking star-forms. It is from this shared design sensibility that they have commonly become known as Chequerboard or Compartment rugs. The overall group is composed of both large and small format pieces with a greater diversity of designs being found in the carpets of larger dimension. Within the small format pieces, there are only two major different design schemes. The first have the joined triangle-formed diamonds creating octagonal field reserves which offset the star-form motif (see Ibid, p.49, fig. 15 for an example of this type in the Victoria & Albert Museum.) In the second small format design, perhaps a simplification of the first design type, the joined triangle-formed diamonds are elongated and joined forming hexagonal field reserves for the star-forms as seen in the present Bernheimer example. All of the examples of both small format design types share a similar border of cartouches and lobed medallions.
Charles Grant Ellis identifies eight other examples which share a similar design with the Bernheimer Chequerboard rug (see Ellis, C. G.: Oriental Carpets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1988, p.128 for a listing of these pieces). Ellis illustrates Philadelphia's rug from the Joseph Lees Williams Memorial Collection, which shares the alteration in color between blue and blue-green in the star-forms as seen in the Bernheimer piece. The Philadelphia rug differs slightly to the Bernheimer piece in that its design is more fully complete within the borders, whereas here the upper row of diamonds is slightly truncated by the border, giving a sense of an endless repeat. Interestingly, as in the present example, many of the borders of the Chequerboard group are incomplete and have either been restored or left fragmentary.