Clothing as a Political Tool in the Ottoman Empire: Two Miniature Paintings From a Sixteenth-Century Illustrated History of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520 -1566)
Journal of Historical and European Studies, Volume 1, December (2007)
The Ottoman state, like other Islamic and pre-modern dynasties, regulated the appearance and personal presentation of its officials and citizens. Costume signalled distinctions in religious status, occupation, and regional affiliations. It helped maintain social order and promote communal unity. This paper will examine two miniature paintings in the collection of the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, and assess what they might tell us about the uses and, above all, the meaning of aspects of costume and textiles in the Ottoman realm.
My approach goes beyond an inventory of what people wore and when. Rather, it is an attempt to follow a line of questioning suggested by Roland Barthes in the 1950s when he called for costume study to be linked to what he described as the ‘mentality’ of the eras and cultures in which it had been worn. Almost half a century later, despite the potential of the study of clothing as material ‘mirrors of reality’ in contributing to the understanding of the social and cultural milieu of the Ottoman Empire, research in the field remains sporadic. This situation persists despite a large corpus of Ottoman costume and related materials surviving in museums and private collections in Turkey and other parts of the world.