Tughra (Insignia) of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520–66)
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.
#906. Kids: Tughra (Official Signature) of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-66)
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Title:Tughra (Insignia) of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520–66)
Geography:From Turkey, Istanbul
Medium:Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Dimensions:Tughra: H. 20 1/2 in. (52.1 cm) W. 25 3/8 in. (64.5 cm) Mat: H. 25 in. (63.5 cm) W. 30 in. (76.2 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1938
Tughra of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent
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: In Ottoman Turkish: Suleiman, son of Selim Khan, ever victorious
Below, in gold: 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]
Bloomington. Indiana University. "Islamic Art Across the World," June 18, 1970–October 1, 1970, no. 26.
Indianapolis. Indianapolis Museum of Art. "Treasures from the Metropolitan," October 25, 1970–January 3, 1971, no. 87.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Calligraphy West of China," March 15–May 7, 1972, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Educated Eye: Studies in Curatorial Problems," January 1973.
Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "The Age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent," January 25–May 17, 1987, no. 4.
Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago. "The Age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent," June 14–September 7, 1987, no. 4.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent," October 4, 1987–January 17, 1988, no. 4.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Making The Met, 1870–2020," August 29, 2020–January 3, 2021.
Bowie, Theodore Robert. "An Exhibition Prepared by Theodore Bowie." In Islamic Art Across the World. Vol. no. 1970/3. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Art Museum, June 17 to Oct. 1, 1970. no. 26.
McAllister, Hannah E. "Tughras of Sulaiman the Magnificent." Museum of Metropolitan Art Bulletin vol. 34 (November 1939). pp. 247–48, ill. p. 247.
Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 78, ill. fig. 45 (b/w).
Dimand, Maurice S. "Turkish Art of the Muhammadan Period." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n. s., vol. 2 (1944). p. 211, ill. (b/w).
Grube, Ernst J. "The Ottoman Empire." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 26, no. 5 (January 1968). no. 36, p. 217, ill. (b/w).
Atil, Esin. The Age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Washington, DC: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1987. no. 4, pp. 41–42, ill. pl. 4 (color).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 114–16, ill. fig. 85 (color).
de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 325, ill. fig. 33 (color).
Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 50, no. 1 (Summer 1992). pp. 52–53, ill. fig. 63 (color).
Burn, Barbara, ed. Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York; Boston: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. p. 83, ill. (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Haidar, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 205, pp. 16, 286, 294–95, ill. p. 295 (color).
Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Art and Architecture. London: Thames and Hudson, 2021. p. 267, ill. fig. 196
Ekhtiar, Maryam, and Claire Moore, ed. "A Resource for Educators." In Art of the Islamic World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. pp. 128–29, ill. fig. 23 (color).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. p. 139, ill. (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam. How to Read Islamic Calligraphy. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018. no. 8, pp. 48–49, ill. front cover, pp. 48–49.
Khafipour, Hani, ed. "Source Studies of the Safavid, Ottoman, and Mughal Literate Communities." In The Empires of the Near East and India. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019. p. 194, fig. 4.2 (b/w).
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can now connect to the most up-to-date data and images for more than 470,000 artworks in The Met collection. As part of The Met’s Open Access program, the data is available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.
The Met's collection of Islamic art is one of the most comprehensive in the world and ranges in date from the seventh to the twenty-first century. Its more than 15,000 objects reflect the great diversity and range of the cultural traditions from Spain to Indonesia.