Tughra (Official Signature) of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520–66)
From Turkey, Istanbul
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
H. 20 1/2 in. (52.1 cm)
W. 25 3/8 in. (64.5 cm)
Mat: 25 x 30 in. (63.5 x 76.2 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1938
Not on view
The Ottoman tughra is a calligraphic emblem of the sultan's authority that was included in all official documents, such as firmans (royal decrees), endowment papers, correspondence, and coins. Used by the first Ottoman sultan in 1324, it later developed into a more complex form that included three vertical shafts and two concentric oval loops on the left. It consists of the name of the reigning sultan, his father's name, his title, and the phrase "the eternally victorious." This unique calligraphic emblem was not easily read or copied. Therefore, a specific court artist was designated to draw the undecorated, standard tughra. A court illuminator assisted him in the exquisite decoration of the tughra on certain imperial documents. The illuminator's delicate scroll design and naturalistic flowers enhance the harmonious lines of calligraphy, creating a colorful voluminous effect.
The Ottoman Turkish sultans controlled one of the most efficient, well-organized, and effective governmental bureaucracies of early modern times; at the apex of this governmental structure was the Ottoman Imperial Chancery, which created, copied, and recorded all official governmental orders or decrees, known as firman, as well as treaties and official correspondence. The documents created by this elite agency, housed in the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, were specifically designed to reflect the power and magnificence of the ruler in whose name they were issued. The script used in imperial firmans, known as divani—literally, of the (imperial) council—utilized a mixture of black and costly gold ink; it was intricate, beautiful, and extremely difficult to read. At the top of every firman was a calligraphic device specific to each sultan, known as the tughra, which not only indicated the source of the order but, as a combination of royal seal and royal signature, served as the visual public representation of the ruler, in the same way that representations of throne or crown symbolized monarchs in Europe. The earliest surviving Ottoman tughras were executed in black ink only. Although the ancient origins of the form are shrouded in mystery, it may have been created by an illiterate sovereign dipping three fingers in ink.
The illuminated tughras dating from the early sixteenth century onward that are more typically found on important Ottoman documents are the work of a specially trained court official known as the tughrakeş, whose job, equivalent to the Lord Privy Seal in English royal bureaucracy, was to affix the tughra incorporating the sultan’s name and ancestry to the top of each document. By the time of the reign of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (1520–66), the tughra had attained its classic proportions and form. These include, to the left, three large loops; at the top, a plume of three ligatures; on the right, two horizontal ligatures that eventually merge; and, at the bottom, an intertwined inscription, which usually follows a set formula: the name of the sultan, his father’s name, and the invocation "may his reign endure forever." In many important documents, the first line or lines of text below may expand on the sultan’s sobriquets, possessions, and lineage, listing among other things his domains on three continents and his titles, including "the shadow of God on earth."
The Metropolitan’s tughra of Süleyman the Magnificent is a work of calligraphy and illumination created at the height of Ottoman classicism in the 1550s. Its illumination is restrained, unlike the exuberance of later examples, and employs the classical repertoire of featherlike, curved saz leaves and vegetal arabesques incorporating the split-leaf form termed rumi in Turkey. The inscription reads "Sultan Süleyman Khan, the son of Sultan Selim Khan, may his reign endure forever."
Walter B. Denny in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. McAllister 1939.
2. Atil 1987, p. 41, no. 4.
Inscription: The calligraphy in Ottoman Turkish is translated as: "Suleiman, son of Selim Khan, ever victorious." Below, in gold, it reads: "This is the noble, exalted, brilliant sign-manual, the world-illuminating and adoring cipher of the Khaqan [may it be made efficient by the aid of the Lord and the protection of the Eternal]. His order is that [...]"
[ E. Beghian, London, until 1938; sold to MMA]
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