Tughra (Imperial Cipher) of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520–1566), ca. 1555; Ottoman Turkey (Istanbul).
The Ottoman tughra is a calligraphic emblem of the sultan’s authority that was included in all official documents, such as firmans (royal decrees), endowment papers, correspondence, and coins. Used by the first Ottoman sultan in 1324, it later developed into a more complex form that included three vertical shafts and two concentric oval loops on the left. It consists of the name of the reigning sultan, his father’s name, his title, and the phrase “the eternally victorious.”
This unique calligraphic emblem was not easily read or copied. Therefore, a specific court artist was designated to draw the undecorated, standard tughra. A court illuminator assisted him in the exquisite decoration of the tughra on certain imperial documents. The illuminator’s delicate scroll design and naturalistic flowers enhance the harmonious lines of calligraphy, creating a colorful voluminous effect.
Yatagan, ca. 1525–30
Made by the Workshop of Ahmed Tekelü
Steel, walrus ivory, gold, silver, rubies, turquoise, pearl
The gold incrustation on the blade depicts a combat between a dragon and a phoenix against a background of foliate scrolls. These figures, like the gold-inlaid cloud bands on the ivory grip, are Chinese in style and were probably introduced into Ottoman art through contacts with Persia.
The extremely high relief of the delicately modeled goldsmith’s work, and the use of rubies for eyes, silver for the dragon’s teeth, and a pearl set into the phoenix’s head, exemplify the opulence and refinement of Ottoman luxury arts.