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 25

Image 25

Fragment of a kaftan back with peacock feather design
Mid-16th century
Turkey, probably Istanbul
Silk, metal-wrapped thread; taqueté (seraser); 52 x 27 in. (132.1 x 68.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1952 (52.20.15)

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Ottoman empire, courtly life, costume, textile, silk

Luxurious textiles are among the most well-known examples of Ottoman art. These fabrics, often fashioned into ceremonial garments, were admired by Ottomans and Europeans alike.

This cloth panel was once the back of a ceremonial robe, or kaftan, worn by an Ottoman sultan or a high-ranking official. The designs often carried symbolic meanings. In popular Islamic tradition, the peacock, whose feathers are emulated here, is an inhabitant of the Garden of Eden.

This fragment is woven of costly silver-wrapped silk thread. The main pattern consists of a trilobed form inspired by the feathers of a peacock's tail. The serrated edges along the outside of the large plumes and tear-shaped designs set against the peach background of their interiors evoke the texture of feathers. Small floral rosettes in the same colors appear on each side of the composition.

The Ottoman court placed great emphasis on public ceremonies in which the sultan and high officials wore garments crafted of expensive and sumptuous silk fabrics with ornate designs. Travelers' accounts frequently mention the opulence of the sultan's apparel and the splendor of the court. Colorful and festive public events, such as parades and diplomatic receptions, were occasions for the display of wealth. The large-scale patterns also helped audiences view the sultan from a distance during processions. To the Ottomans and their subjects, appearance spoke of one's rank in society. Regulations promulgated by the court specified a strict dress code for every echelon of society. For example, foreigners, non-Muslims, or people of low standing were not allowed to wear cloth of silver such as this.

Another important court practice involved the annual gift of ceremonial robes and textiles to individuals in the service of the sultan. Rank in the military and civil administration determined the number and quality of the gifts. For example, a vizier might obtain three robes and several yards of a fine textile along with material for turbans, while an ordinary soldier would receive a few yards of cotton. Foreign ambassadors were frequently given court robes to wear as they prepared for an audience with the sultan. Some of these, taken back to Europe, were subsequently made into dresses for the ambassadors' wives. It was the royal workshop's responsibility to respond to this huge demand and its craftsmen were almost always at work on imperial commissions.

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History