The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Mid-16th century, Ottoman period
Gouache and gold leaf on paper
20 1/2 x 25 3/8 in. (52.1 x 64.5 cm)
Acquired in 1938
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1938. (38.149.1)
In Arabic, the word tughra means "enclosed garden." In Islamic culture, though, the tughra is the sultan's official monogram, the signature placed on all official documents issued from the court. While all tughras followed the same basic pattern of ovals, arabesques, and vertical lines, each sultan's was unique, listing his given titles, names, and father's name in beautiful, albeit usually illegible (to the untrained eye), calligraphy. Suleyman I the Magnificent's, shown here, declares him the "ever victorious" in an ornate combination of colors and strokes, all derived from Arabic calligraphy.
The basis of Islamic art has always been calligraphy. Arabic script, after all, was used to transcribe the Koran -- the Word of God -- and was therefore considered the noblest of all art forms. At least 12 different styles of calligraphic Arabic script developed from around the ninth century. The form eventually fell out of favor in the early 20th century, when the Latin alphabet was adopted in Turkey for most official documents. But during its centuries-long heyday, with representational, or figural, art largely discouraged by Islam, this calligraphy became increasingly decorative and ornate.
Nowhere was this more evident than during the reign of Suleyman I the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566). In addition to being considered the greatest of the Turkish sultans, Suleyman was also an influential patron of the arts. Under Suleyman, the Turks developed their own highly elaborate form of calligraphy, called Diwani, known for its complex and intricate beauty. Few scribes were able to master the art form, and those who did spent their lives perfecting it.
Suleyman's tughra, used not only on official documents but also coins, has been a part of the Met's Islamic Art collection since 1938.
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