This work of art was used as the imperial cipher for the Ottoman Empire's Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520-1566). The tughra was used as a seal to signify the legality of official documents such as royal decrees, endowment papers, correspondence, and coins . The tughra was used not only by Suleiman, but also all other Ottoman sultans beginning in the fourteenth century . Each Sultan chose their own design from a prepared set of examples. They may have not been as embellished as Suleiman’s tughra, but the others had no lesser meaning.
The tughra was a seal drawn at the head of documents to institute the gravity of the notion and guarantee its authenticity [see Imber, 73]. The tughra was affixed upon all documents by the nisanci. He was the representative of the Chancery among the Imperial Council [see Inalcik, 93]. The nisanci would have been a calligrapher. These men were trained to write flawlessly and beautifully. They prepared their own ink and pens . After the initial inscription by the calligrapher, a court illuminator would fill in the decoration of the seal. In the represented picture of Suleiman the Magnificent’s tughra, the embellishment was with golden ink; a rare practice anywhere in the world.
The tughra is not just a picture used as a representation of authority, but contains writing in the design. The main portion of the body reads : "Sulaiman, son of Selim Khan, ever victorious." In the lower left corner, written in gold is: "This is the noble, exalted, sign-manual, the world-illuminating and adoring cipher of the Khakan [may it be efficient by the aid of the Lord and the protection of the Eternal]. His order is that..." The body of the document would then follow as stated above.
Local Historical Context
The tughra was a symbol of the Ottoman Empire. The sultans used the seal to signify their authority and rule. During the time of the depicted tughra, Suleiman the Magnificent was in power. Suleiman was the most prominent of all the sultans and ruled thelargest expanse of land at the height of the Ottoman Empire.At Suleiman’s time of power, the empire was very wealthy and had little direct threat [see Clot, 31].
Suleiman was the tenth sultan of the Ottoman’s reign. Ten is a perfect number to Muslims so Suleiman was held with high expectation. Even his name was selected at random and derived from Solomon in the Koran [see Clot, 31].
Suleiman’s interests are reflected by the beauty and complexity of his tughra. He was a well learned man and enjoyed the arts very much. Suleiman encouraged practice of the arts so much that he provided near unlimited funding for them and even took up writing poetry himself [see Clot, 269-270]. Among the arts was calligraphy; the basis of the tughra.
World Historical Significance
The death of Suleiman brought grief throughout the empire. His reputation rose above and beyond that of all preceding sultans [see Clot, 297]. The tughra that Suleiman left behind is a reminder of just how great his empire had become. The Christians of Europe were so terrified of his might that they did not believe they could stand against an attack [see Clot, 299]. The world did not need a reminder of just how great Suleiman had become for he had created them himself. Not only in his love for art but in his conquest of land.
With the death of Suleiman came the decline and eventual collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Suleiman may have been to blame as he and his council had changed the ways of the palace and government from the early days of the sultan's rule. The rest of the West was in turmoil around this time and assisted in the decline of the states [see Clot, 302]. At this point the impact of Suleiman's tughra was ineffective.
Andrè Clot, Suleiman the Magnificent, The Man, His Life, His Epoch (London: Saqi 1992), 31, 269-270.
Colin Imber, The Ottoman Empire, 1300-1650, The Structure of Power (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 73.
The British Museum, "Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent." http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/t/tughra_of_suleiman.aspx
Halil Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire, The Classical Age 1300-1600 (Great Britain: Ebenezer Baylis and Son Ltd, 1973), 93.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Tughra (Imperial Cipher) of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent." Last updated April 19, 2011. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/38.149.
Metroopolitan Museum of Art, "Tughra of Süleyman the Magnificent." http://www.metmuseum.org/explore/TUGHRA/tughra_what.html