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"Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey" Opens at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery on Oct. 29

Media only: Rebecca Fahy, 202.633.0521
Public only: 202.633.1000
Media Preview: Thursday, October 27 at 10 a.m. R.S.V.P. 202.633.0521
Exhibition dates: October 29, 2005–January 22, 2006

September 19, 2005

The first international exhibition devoted to sumptuous and graphically stunning imperial Turkish robes (kaftans) from the 16th and 17th century—the embodiment of the maxim that "clothes make the man"—will be on view at the Sackler Gallery this fall and winter. "Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey," on view from Oct. 29, 2005—Jan. 22, 2006, presents robes that dazzle with their audacious play of colors, bold designs, and rich finish.

At the core of the 68 objects on view is a group of opulent imperial robes from the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, the largest repository of Islamic textiles in the world. Additional works are on loan from the Mevlana Museum, Konya, Turkey, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and several national collections. Koç Holding A.S., the largest industrial conglomerate of Turkey, is the lead corporate sponsor.

Broadly organized according to technique, the exhibition celebrates Ottoman artistic creativity and its success at transforming silk into the most potent and visible symbol of the empire's power and wealth. Many of the robes are exhibited on custom-made mannequins that show off their full splendor. In addition to robes belonging to Sultan Selim (reigned 1512–1520), Sultan Suleyman (reigned 1520–1566) and his son Bayazid, who was executed in 1561, the exhibition includes trousers, hats, cushion and floor coverings, as well as several large, inscribed textiles from the Topkapi's renowned collection. Examples of ecclesiastic copes and chasubles made from Ottoman silks and velvets are also on display.

At its height in the late 16th and early 17th century, the mighty Ottoman Empire (1281–1924) extended from present-day Iraq in the east to the Balkans in the west to North Africa in the south. Ottoman society was rigidly hierarchical, and luxurious ceremonial robes—worn for civilian and religious ceremonies, as well as on the battlefield—played a central role in court life. The finest and most precious robes were reserved for the Sultan and his family, but "robes of honor" (hilyat) were also distributed to foreign dignitaries, local courtiers and state officials, thereby conferring royal favor, political rank, and social status. The number and quality of robes a dignitary received were indicative of his status in the eyes of the sultan.

Three weaves were dominant: velvet (kadife), featuring a three-dimensional surface withsome areas of pile and some of metal thread; brocade (kemha) and cloths of gold and silver thread (seraser)—the most expensive and luxurious. In the mid-16th century, Ottoman taste increasingly favored large, bold designs, such as medallions, stylized tiger stripes, and a triplespot design known as "çintamani" (literally, "auspicious jewel"). By repeatedly combining the similar motifs in different scales and patterns, the Ottomans were among the first to use recurrent motifs to create a dramatic and distinct visual language—a quintessentially "Ottomanbrand"—that became identifiable with the empire's centralized political strength and growing economic power—its style and status.

The first major center for the Ottoman silk industry was Bursa in Northwestern Turkey, which in the 16th century became one of the richest cities in the world. Because of the increasing demands of the court for silk fabrics, Istanbul also became an important center for manufacture. Ottoman silks, both in raw and finished states, were coveted luxury items exportedto Europe, the Balkans, Poland, and especially to Russia, the empire's largest market. Most were fashioned into ecclesiastical garments, such as chasables and copes. Those reserved for the Russian Orthodox Church are notable for their inclusion of religious figural imagery andwere produced in Turkey by local weavers.

The Ottomans, in turn, imported fur and ermine to line and adorn their outer garments. They also greatly admired Italian silks, especially velvets, which they imported in great quantity. Many Italian silks were made expressly for the Turkish market, where they were fashioned primarily into royal robes. Locally produced velvet was reserved primarily for cushion or floor coverings because the quality was not considered high enough for imperial robes.

Among the outstanding textiles on view are:

• A robe, made from gold and silver thread (seraser)—considered the most valuable and precious, it was worn only by the sultan. Ottoman flair for drama is evident in the choice of bright red lining, which was visible when the sultan was on horseback. (TKS 13/9)
• Cotton-lined silk trousers with the popular "tiger stripe" motif on a silver thread background demonstrates the care and attention devoted to all types of Ottoman imperial garments. (TKS 13/559)
• A short-sleeved kaftan featuring the distinct triple dot motif, known as çintamani "auspicious jewel," which probably originated in Central Asia. (TKS 13/41)
• A striking red-and-white kaftan that combines two of the most distinctive design elements identifiable with Ottoman style and status: a single stylized tiger stripe and the triple-dot motif, now transformed into crescents. (TKS 13/486)
• A long-sleeved kaftan—one of the most sumptuous Ottoman textiles—with complex floral designs, perhaps intended for one of the sons of Suleyman the Magnificent. Patterns such as these inspired the leader of the British arts and crafts movement, William Morris, (1834–1896) to incorporate Ottoman motifs into his designs. (TKS13/37)
• An elegant but plain silk satin robe that was owned by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. (TKS 13/100)
• An ecclesiastical vestment (dalmatic) decorated with Christian figural imagery andproduced in Turkey for the Orthodox Church in the West. (RISD 28.008)

The exhibition curators are the internationally renowned scholar of Ottoman art Professor Nurhan Atasoy and Massumeh Farhad, chief curator and curator of Islamic art, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Atasoy is lead author of "Ipek: Imperial Ottoman Silks and Velvets" (London: Azimuth Press, 2001). An exhibition catalog based on the 2001 publication also will be available.

"Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey" is organized by the Freer and Sackler Galleries in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Turkish Republic, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Turkish Republic, and the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The exhibition is sponsored by Koç Holding A.S. with generous support from the Promotion Fund of the Prime Ministry of Turkey, ITKIB Association USA, Turkish Cultural Foundation, the lead foundation sponsor; The Packard Humanities Institute, Turkish Airlines, Hagop Kevorkian Fund, and an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the exhibitions section of the galleries' website.

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