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Tughra (Official Signature) of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent from Istanbul

Met curator Deniz Beyazit on the art of control in Tughra (Official Signature) of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent from Istanbul, c. 1555–60.

Raised to a high art form within the Ottoman chancery, the tughra served as the official seal of the sultan. Affixed to every royal edict, this stylized signature is an intricate calligraphic composition comprising the name of the reigning sultan, his father’s name, his title, and the phrase "the eternally victorious." Its bold, gestural line contrasts with the delicate swirling vine-scroll illumination used to ornament the seal.

View this work on metmuseum.org.

Are you an educator? Here's a related lesson plan. For additional educator resources from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, visit Find an Educator Resource.

Created by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Are the flowers in this work of art what one would call an "arabesque"?
    (9 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user trek
      I cannot claim to be any sort of an expert, but it seems to meet the definition of arabesque listed on the Met's glossary page:
      arabesque – an Islamic decoration employing abstract intertwining vine, leaf, and plant motifs

      Here is a quote from a PBS page (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/sisterwendy/works/tug.html) on this tughra:

      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.
      (15 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user matt
    What does the faint text under the tughra says?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

This is the tughra of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent made towards the end of his rule. made towards the end of his rule. Written is Suleyman Sah, Ibn Selim Sah, Han, Al-Muzaffer then usually it ends with Dimen which means the victorious forever. But the funny thing is it is really hard to read. This signature is attached to every administrative document. One can read it as a real symbol of the Sultan himself representing his power. When I was a child I was always getting lost within these flowers. I was always intrigued. By looking closely I really discovered that there is a system. That there is a beauty. There is a sense of music even behind how these flowers work together. Then besides this of course there is all the historic context. It’s not only an artistic language, but it’s a world of man. It’s a world of ruling powerful warriors who were rivals of Europe. The calligraphy looks actually like a large snake. This all goes together with these flowers, which to me is rather a symbol of a woman not the symbol of the ruling sultan. The flowers are out of control, but to draw them in such details in this artwork everything is under control. It’s the art of controlling. And each section is different. You have the Sadz leaves, the split palmette, the carnations and you’ll find them everywhere. And the whole vibration of the gold your eye tries to figure out which section is in front and which is behind. Suddenly the painting gets three-dimensional. When you look at it more and more the colors start living. I can stand back and discover it in a different way. I still have a little bit that naïve perception of getting lost, which is not really academic but that’s at the end what makes us enjoy the art and let it get into you.