The Age of Süleyman “the Magnificent” (r. 1520–1566)
Under Süleyman, popularly known as “the Magnificent” or “the Lawmaker,” the Ottoman empire reached the apogee of its military and political power. Süleyman’s armies conquered Hungary, over which the Ottomans maintained control for over 150 years, and they advanced as far west as Vienna, threatening the Habsburgs. To the east, the Ottoman forces wrested control of Iraq from the Safavids of Iran. In the Mediterranean, their navy captured all the principal North African ports, and for a time the Ottoman fleet completely dominated the sea. By the end of Süleyman’s reign, Ottoman hegemony extended over a great portion of Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The tile revetment of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, as well as several additions to sites in Mecca and Medina, the two Holy Cities of Islam date from this period.Along with geographic expansion, trade, economic growth, and tremendous cultural and artistic activity helped define the reign of Süleyman as a “Golden Age.” Developments occurred in every field of the arts; however, those in calligraphy, manuscript painting, textiles, and ceramics were particularly significant. Artists renowned by name include calligrapher Ahmad Karahisari as well as painters Shahquli and Kara Memi.
In architecture, the most outstanding achievements of this period were the public buildings designed by Sinan (1539–1588), chief of the Corps of Royal Architects. While Sinan is often remembered for his two major commissions, the mosque complexes of Süleymaniye in Istanbul (1550–57) and of the later Selimiye in Edirne (1568–74), he designed hundreds of buildings across the Ottoman empire and contributed to the dissemination of Ottoman culture. Apart from mosques and other pious foundations—including schools, hospices, and soup kitchens, supported by shops, markets, baths, and caravanserais—Süleyman also commissioned repairs and additions to major historical monuments. The tile revetment of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, as well as several additions to sites in Mecca and Medina, the two Holy Cities of Islam, date from this period.
1- Mirror with split-leaf palmette design
Mirror with split–leaf palmette design inlaid with gold, Ottoman period (ca. 1299–1923), early 16th century
Turkey, probably Bursa or Istanbul
Iron, inlaid with gold; ivory; H. 9 3/8 in. (23.8 cm), Diam. 4 3/4 in. (12.1 cm), D. 1/8 in. (0.2 cm)
2- Hungarian–style Shield, ca. 1500–1550
Wood, leather, gesso, polychromy; 32 1/2 x 21 in. (82.6 x 54.9 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1949 (49.57.1)
Wing-shaped shields, with the distinctive upward-sweeping back edge, were the characteristic light-cavalry shields of Hungary. During the sixteenth century, the style was adopted across much of eastern Europe by both Christian and Islamic horsemen. The shield’s elongated upper edge was designed to defend the back of the head and neck against cuts from the saber, the preferred cavalry weapon in that region.
3- Yatagan, ca. 1525–30
L. 23 3/8 in. (59.3 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1993 (1993.14)
4- Fragment of a kaftan back, Ottoman period (ca. 1299–1923), mid-16th century
Turkey, probably Istanbul
Silk, metal-wrapped thread; taqueté (seraser); L. 52 in. (132.1 cm), W. 27 in. (68.6 cm)
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1952 (52.20.15).
This magnificent panel from a kaftan is an example of very high-grade seraser production in Istanbul. Seraser is a cloth of gold and silver woven in a compound structure consisting of two warps and two or more complementary wefts. It was highly favored at the Ottoman court. The design of peacock feathers alludes to the bird who resided in paradise until he was expelled, along with Adam and Eve, for failing to follow God’s commandments.
5- Helmet, mid-16th century; Ottoman period
H. 10 3/4 in. (27.8 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1904 (04.3.456a)
This helmet was forged from watered steel and decorated in gold with arabesques and Qur’anic inscriptions. It is similar to a helmet (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) made about 1560 for a grand vizier of the Ottoman sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520–66). Both helmets were presumably made in one of the imperial workshops in Istanbul. Although this helmet is a serviceable military object, it must have been created primarily as part of a parade armor and as a symbol of rank.