Despite being depicted on a number of Italian paintings, there are very few "re-entrant" prayer rugs which have survived from the early Ottoman period. Of the surviving examples, in contrast to the small medallion Ushak rugs of comparable date, there is great diversity. The present example is no exception to this point; it contains a number of features not seen in any others of the group.
The group is well discussed by John Mills, including the present rug as noted above, illustrating all the early examples that he knew at the time, but leaving out some mentioned by Johanna Zick which are only known from the Erdmann archive (Zick, Johanna: "Eine Gruppe von Gebetsteppichen und ihre Datierung", Berliner Museen, Berichte aus den ehem. preussischen Kunstsammlunge, n.s., vol.11, pt.1, September 1961, pp.6-14). Despite his concerns to the contrary, the article did not produce a flurry of further examples; there remain less than twenty published examples, each of which differs considerably from the others. Of all the others in the group, the closest to the present rug is the magnificent example in Berlin (Spuhler, Friedrich: Oriental Carpets in the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, London and Boston, 1988, no.16, pp.37 and 159). Mills shows two paintings which can be dated to the first decade of the sixteenth century which show rugs very similar indeed to the Berlin rug. When discussing the present example, he dates it slightly later on the basis of the rare border which is occasionally found on Lotto rugs (Gantzhorn, op.cit, pl.398, p.279; Yetkin, Serare: Historical Turkish Carpets, Istanbul, 1981, pl.32; Bernheimer Family Collection of Carpets, Christie's London, 14 February 1996, lot 90 amongst a few others). This border only appears on two paintings, one dateable to the mid-16th century, the other to circa 1590 (Mills, op.cit, appendix, p.127). There is also one rug which combines this border with the small-pattern Holbein field (Kertesz-Badrus, Andrei: Türkische Teppiche in Siebenbürgen, Bucharest, 1985, pl.2). One extra feature of the present border, not noted in other versions, are the two panels of chequered motifs in opposite corners. Were they just to fill gaps, there would be no reason for the weaver to have woven a half-box in the upper border. Their symbolism however is not clear.
The central medallion of this rug is remarkable. In contrast to the two main forms and many minor variations on the small medallions seen in the Ushak rugs, this lifts one element from the small-pattern Holbein design and uses that as the focal point of the rug, complete with its very marked diagonal colour symmetry, which is less appropriate when the element is removed from the repeat pattern.
A number of authors have made suggestions about the symbolism of the re-entrant design. One possibility suggested is that it is the innermost of a complex design of niches. Another that it represents a pool of water, comparable to the fountain at which the faithful can wash before praying in mosques. Grant-Ellis, in his discussion of the battered example in Philadelphia looks East, suggesting that it has a cosmologocal significance similar to the mountain symbols at the bottom of Chinese ceremonial robes and on a number of Chinese and East Turkestan rugs (Ellis, Charles Grant: Oriental carpets, Phildelphia mUsuem of Art, Philadelphia, 1988, p.78).