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Suleiman the Magnificent’s Carpets: A Tale of Two Empires

Carpets of Suleiman the Magnificent

As you stand in admiration of the magnificent antique carpets produced by the Persian and Ottoman artisans, it is easy to see more similarities than differences. They both present a garden of color and intricate designs that fascinate and captivate. However, even though there are similarities in design and color, to confuse the two in the Court of Suleiman the Magnificent would have been to put your life in peril. This great ruler of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent fervently denied any Persian influence in art and design.

Suleiman the Magnificent | Nazmiyal

Portrait of Suleiman the Magnificent

Suleiman the Magnificent’s Ottomans Vs Persian – A Tale of Two Empires:

The story of the Persian Safavid Dynasty and the rise of the Ottoman Turks, to become great empires, has many parallels. Prior to the rise of these great dynasties, the area within the middle east was occupied mainly by tribal cultures fighting over control of grazing lands. In 1520, Suleiman I – AKA Suleiman the Magnificent,  became the tenth and longest reigning ruler of the Ottoman Empire. He became known as “The Lawgiver Suleiman” or “Suleiman the Magnificent.” Under his rule, the Ottoman Empire would grow to encompass 25 million people and a vast territory.

Under Suleiman, the Ottoman Empire would enter into its Golden Age of art and cultural development. Suleiman heavily supported patronage of the arts. He established Ehl-i Hiref, which translates “Community of the Craftsmen.” This community of craftsmen was administered from the Imperial seat at Tokapi Palace. This community established a formal apprenticeship program where artisans would advance in their rank and were paid quarterly annual installments that were commensurate with their skills. Documents from 1526 list 40 different societies with over 600 artisans as members. It included some of the most talented artists of the court. Of course, carpet weavers were listed among them.

Tokapi Palace Turkey - Nazmiyal Antique Rugs

Tokapi Palace Turkey

The rug weavers of this community were assigned the task of creating magnificently beautiful rugs for the royal courts of the Ottoman rulers. It may be noted that the Ottoman Court is noted for its strict adherence to Islam. It is not surprising that we begin to see the tiled geometric and larger motifs that were found in architecture and other Islamic art of the time. The Oriental carpets were meant to show off the wealth of the Ottoman rulers. They were diplomatic gifts and were used to adorn state-sponsored mosques and buildings.

Antique 17th Century Ottoman Textile | Nazmiyal

Antique 17th Century Ottoman Textile

Miniature paintings of the time showed these carpets underneath massive outdoor tents at formal state functions. These paintings indicate that some epic carpets of massive scale were produced. They are often shown layered one on top of another. The designs were standardized and dictated to the community artisans. The artisans were not the designers, but the court itself dictated motifs that were to be used throughout the community artisans. These standardized, state-sponsored design motifs found their way into bookbinding, miniature painting, pottery, textiles, and architecture. The artisans themselves had little artistic freedom and were held to strict standards. There are even undocumented allusions in writings of the time that Suleiman himself produced some of these designs.

Although one can find resemblances to tribal designs and motifs used by Anatolian tribes, the court fervently denied these influences. They take credit for the introduction of the “saz” style floral with long, curvy leaves throughout the design. They used native flowers, such as roses, hyacinths, and tulips heavily. The Chintamani pattern, sometimes called “tiger stripes” is another design that arose at this time. This particular design is associated with the Ottoman court, and they considered it much in the same way we associate a certain brand with a company. The Ottoman Court promoted strict adherence to the Muslim religion, which led to the development and introduction of the mihrab, or prayer rug, design.

Mihrab Design Islamic Antique Muslim Prayer Rugs Nazmiyal

Mihrab Design in an Islamic Muslim antique Prayer rugs

Another remarkable aspect of the carpets of the courts of Suleiman the Magnificent is their construction methods. The Ottoman court carpets use S-spun wool, rather than Z-spun wool found in Persia and other parts of the world. S-spun wool are attributed to the carpets of ancient Egypt. They require a different spinning technique than Z-spun wool. When determining whether an early carpet is of Turkish or Persian origin, this is often a deciding factor.

Z-spun and S-spun Wool Diagram by nazmiyal

Z-spun and S-spun Wool Diagram

Another structural difference is the use of the Ghiordes (or symmetrical rug knot), rather than the Senneh (or asymmetrical knot) that is typically found in Persia and throughout Asia. The Ghiordes knot does not allow for the fine curves found in Persian carpets, and it is more suited to the geometric designs of the Ottomans. However, it is also a bit stronger because it wraps around two warp threads instead of one.

Symmetrical and Asymmetrical Rug Knots by Nazmiyal

Symmetrical and Asymmetrical Rug Knots

Suleiman’s Ottoman Court Arts Vs Shah Abbas’s Safavid Persian Court Arts

If the story of the Golden age of Ottoman Court arts sounds familiar, it is because it is similar to the development of the Golden Age of arts in the Persian Empire. Only 50 years after Suleiman established his formal system of court artisans, Shah Abbas I began making similar changes in the art of the Persian Safavid Dynasty. He ruled Persia from 1588 to 1629. The designs of the Safavid dynasty appear similar to those found in the Ottoman Empire, but there is a great debate among scholars, that mimics a great debate that went on at the time. The debate surrounds whether existing Persian designs heavily influenced the Ottomans, or whether Persian designs copied the court designs of the Ottomans.

Shah Abbas, Islamic Art in Antique Rugs, Nazmiyal Collection

Shah Abbas, a historical force behind Islamic art and carpets.

Of course, both sides claim they are correct side. The two dynasties shared a long and movable border for some time, and there was inevitably some cultural exchange in both of these dynasties. However, both of them claimed first rights to their designs and that they were the original author of them. Both of them used these designs to elevate the glory of their empires.

One may note that while the court rugs of Suleiman were in adherence to the issuance of “official” designs, Persian rug weavers had considerably more freedom, as the hold of Islam was looser. Many still practiced Zoroastrianism and continued to incorporate the traditional ancestral tribal designs into formal works for the Persian courts. Remote Anatolian tribes were still producing these ancient tribal designs, but they were officially erased from the Court of Suleiman and replaced by notably Islamic carpet designs.

Oriental Antique Tribal Turkish Kirshehir Prayer Rug | Nazmiyal

Oriental Antique Tribal Turkish Kirshehir Prayer Rug

Ottoman and Persian Courts – An Intense Artistic Rivalry

The Ottoman and Persian Courts were intense political rivals, and both competed for dominance in the export of their wares to the European market. All the while, they were accusing each other of stealing the other’s designs. Suleiman continued to promote the works of Persian as inferior to those of his own court artisans. During the early years when the Ottoman and Safavids were neighbors, there were five different periods of war between them. From 1532 until 1639, there were fewer years when the two were at peace than when they were at war.

The consistencies between the designs of the textiles and carpets of the Ottoman courts are intentional. This is true when it comes to the motifs used, and also, on the scale of the designs. Ottoman designs are considerably larger in scale than Persian designs. Suleiman wanted Ottoman designs to be distinctively different and issued mandates to that effect. Persian designs tend to be more delicate and free flowing.

It is easy to confuse the works of the Ottomans and the early Persian empires because, despite both of their denial, there are many similarities, and one can find a similar use of color and motifs. The biggest difference is that you will find larger geometric motifs and a different structural style and the carpets of the Ottoman Turks. The antique carpets produced by the Court of Suleiman the Magnificent are distinctively different than those from the Safavids on purpose. However, concerning the rivalry about which one was the originator, the verdict is still out, and it is not known if this argument will ever be resolved.

Nonetheless, we are pleased to offer a variety of Ottoman and Persian carpets. You will enjoy the beautiful colors and patterns produced on both sides of the border. Feel free to search our collection and maybe you will find the perfect addition to your own palace.

Here are some beautiful Ottoman textiles from our collection:

Antique 18th Century Ottoman Embroidery Textile | Nazmiyal

Antique 18th Century Ottoman Embroidery Textile

Collectible Antique Ottoman Silk Embroidery | Nazmiyal

Collectible Antique Ottoman Silk Embroidery

17th Century Antique Turkish Ottoman Textile | Nazmiyal

17th Century Antique Turkish Ottoman Textile

This rug blog about Suleiman’s carpets was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rug Gallery in NYC.

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