Learn/ Educators/ Curriculum Resources/ Art of the Islamic World/ Unit Five: Courtly Splendor in the Islamic World/ Chapter Two: Art and Empire—The Ottoman Court/ Featured Works of Art: Images 23–26/ Image 23

Image 23

Tughra (official signature) of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (reigned 1520–66)
About 1555–60
Turkey, Istanbul
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper; 20 1/2 x 25 3/8 in. (52.1 x 64.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.149.1)

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Ottoman empire, Süleyman I (reigned 1520–66), visual identity, emblem, royal workshop, ink

This tughra exemplifies the masterful calligraphy and illumination created by the Ottoman royal court. It illustrates the ways calligraphy visually conveyed the sultan's identity and showcased the talents of his court artists.

The tughra was a calligraphic emblem that appeared at the top of official documents, serving as the principal written symbol of Ottoman imperial authority. Each sultan had his own distinctive tughra, containing his name and titles, the name of his father, and the phrase "eternally victorious." This tughra was formerly at the top of a long, scroll-like official document, known as a firman, of Süleyman I (reigned 1520–66). A court official, known as a tughrakes, added the sultan's tughra at the top of all official decrees. In addition to official documents, the tughra was also stamped on some coins (fig. 26). Tughras deliberately included elaborate calligraphy that was hard to copy to help prevent forgeries.

Like the tughras of other Ottoman sultans, this example consists of vertical strokes and elongated lines, contrasting with wide intersecting ovals. The letters are written in blue and outlined in gold, and the inner areas are painted with patterns of blue and gold spiraling scrolls of stems, blossoms, plants, and cloud bands (between the strokes extending to the right).

The personal involvement of Sultan Süleyman was a driving force behind what is frequently described as the "Golden Age of Ottoman Art." In accordance with Ottoman imperial tradition, every ruler was required to learn a practical trade. Süleyman was a goldsmith as well as an accomplished poet who wrote in Persian and Turkish. His sophisticated taste and avid interest in the arts stimulated artistic activity and encouraged talented artists from all reaches of the empire to work in Istanbul. The court artists, organized into workshops according to media, were a linguistically and ethnically diverse group that brought an array of designs, motifs, and techniques from various regions of the empire into the capital. Süleyman's vision and patronage were instrumental in the formulation of a distinct Ottoman style in the mid-sixteenth century, characterized above all by masterful floral and vegetal forms. These uniquely Ottoman designs found their way onto objects in a variety of media, from ceramics to works on paper.

Fig. 26. Coin struck in Istanbul showing insignia of Sultan Mahmud I, A.H. 1143 / A.D. 1730–31. American Numismatic Society, New York (1949.163.737)

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

This short video highlights the different components of an imperial calligraphic emblem:


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Navina Haidar: Believe it or not, the large painted design in blue and gold is a signature. It was the official signature, or the tughra, of a mighty ruler: Sultan Sulaiman.

So where's Sulaiman's name, exactly? Look at the part at the bottom, in the center—those gracefully woven lines form Arabic letters spelling out "Sulaiman, son of Salim Khan, ever victorious." You'll see more writing to the side, in gold. This gives more of the Sultan's official titles, and commands that his orders be obeyed. Sulaiman was such an important ruler, and ruled over such a huge empire for such a long time that today he's known as "Sultan Sulaiman the Magnificent."

But imagine Sulaiman having to paint this design every time he signed his name. Where'd he find the time to decorate the open spaces with all those swirling leaves and flowers? Actually, he didn't. The sultan paid an artist to write his official decrees on paper in beautiful calligraphy and to paint his tughra at the top.