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Art and Empire—The Ottoman Court

A highly ornate calligraphic Arabic signature in blue and decorated profusely with tiny painted and gilded flowers in blue and white

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)

Collection Area: Islamic Art
Subject Areas: English Language Arts, Visual Arts, World History
Grades: Middle School, High School
Topic/Theme: Power and Leadership


Students will be able to recognize ways a tughra functioned as a symbol of power and authority within a culturally diverse and geographically expansive empire.

National Learning Standards

English Language Arts

NL-ENG.K-12.5 Communication Strategies

Visual Arts

NA-VA.K-12.4 Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures

NA-VA.K-12.6 Making Connections between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines

World History

NSS-WH.5-12.6 Era 6: The Emergence of the First Global Age, 1450–1770

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Questions for Viewing

  • Look closely at the materials and craftsmanship employed in this work. What qualities might distinguish this as something fit for a sultan?
  • A tughra, a calligraphic emblem signifying the authority of an Ottoman sultan, most often appeared on royal decrees and coins. Why might a leader use a combination of ornament and words to convey his or her power? What organizations today effectively use imagery, such as logos, to quickly convey ideas and authenticity?
  • Tughras were intentionally complex to prevent forgeries. What aspects of this design might be the most challenging to copy? Why? What are some strategies used today to prevent the forgery of documents, signatures, and money?
  • What images are associated with the governing body of your community? What do they convey? Where do you most often see them?


Activity Setting: Classroom
Materials: Map of the Ottoman empire (PDF) and books, essays, or other informational texts about Sultan Süleyman (see suggestions in Resources below)
Subject Area: World History
Duration: Approximately 60 minutes

Look closely at the map of the Ottoman empire; note the expanse and geographic features covered. Imagine ruling this enormous area. What challenges might you encounter? Why? Brainstorm several strategies for communicating a leader's power and decisions to a culturally, linguistically, and religiously diverse community encompassing a broad geographic area. Consider how advances in technology have eased communications, if at all, among diverse peoples today. Present your ideas to your peers and include an outline of the pros and cons of each approach. Research ways Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (reigned 1520–66) managed this challenging task using the suggested resources below as a starting point. (Hint: Research the Divan and Janissary Corps as a starting point.)


Ekhtiar, Maryam D., and Claire Moore, eds. Art of the Islamic World: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012.

Sardar, Marika. "The Greater Ottoman Empire, 1600–1800." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

Yalman, Suzan. Based on original work by Linda Komaroff. "The Age of Süleyman 'the Magnificent' (r. 1520–1566)." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

———. Based on original work by Linda Komaroff. "The Art of the Ottomans before 1600." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

Objects in the Museum's Collection Related to this Lesson

Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent Wearing a Jewel-Studded Helmet, about 1532. Venice. Woodcut on paper, sheet: 36 1/4 x 21 15/16 in. (92 x 55.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1942 (42.41.1)

Procession of Sultan Süleyman through the Hippodrome: From the frieze Moeurs et fachons des Turks (Customs and Fashions of the Turks). 1553; after Pieter Coecke van Aelst (Flemish, 1502–1550). Woodcut, 11 3/4 x 15 5/16 in. (29.8 x 38.9 cm), b: 11 3/4 x 17 3/8 in. (29.8 x 44.1 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1928 (28.85.7a, b)

Tile with floral and cloud-band design, about 1578. Turkey, Iznik. Stonepaste, polychrome painted under transparent glaze, 9 13/16 x 9 7/8 x 11/16 in. (24.9 x 25.1 x 1.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of William B. Osgood Field, 1902 (02.5.91)

Author: Claire Moore, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012