From the rule of the Central Asian Saljuq Dynasty in the 11th century until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, Turkey was the cradle as well as the crossroads of a rich variety of Islamic Art, made for sultans and viziers as well as ordinary patrons. A self-guided tour at MIA will reveal some of the most beautiful and important works of Turkish art, all you have to do is get down to the museum, pick up a pamphlet and get started!

Turkish art shows a distinctive cosmopolitanism, influenced and shaped not only by its Islamic heritage but also its pre-Islamic Byzantine and Armenian Christian roots and by neighbouring Persian and Mesopotamian cultures. With so much influence, Turkish art has taken many impressive forms over the years. Here are some of the prominent pieces to look out for.

01. Three Star ‘Holbein’ Carpet Ottoman, 15th century Wool, pile weaving

This early Ottoman carpet acquired its name from art historians who identified the presence of carpets bearing a similar design in the paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger. Wool carpets from Anatolia were exported to Europe in the 15th century and feature in a number of Renaissance-era paintings as luxurious decorations for altars and thrones. See it: CA.78 in Islamic Art Gallery, Floor 2.

Holbein Carpet

02. Brocaded Velvet Textile Ottoman, 16th century Velvet, silk, metal thread

This brocaded velvet is decorated with the same motif as the cintamani tile (TI.2.1997) also displayed in this gallery. The cintamani motif was considered to bring good luck and was often embroidered into luxury textiles, such as this one. Such textiles were worn by members of the Ottoman court and other wealthy elites of the Ottoman Empire. See it: TE.29.1998 in Pattern Gallery, Floor 2.

Brocaded Velvet Textile - TE-29-A

03. Iznik Border Tile Ottoman, 16th century Fritware, pigments

The so-called cintamani design on this tile, comprising three circles and two wavy lines, is a common Ottoman motif. Cintamani means “auspicious jewel” in Sanskrit and in Buddhist iconography the motif represented auspicious flaming pearls. In the Ottoman context it became symbolic of strength and power from an association with tiger stripes and leopard spots. See it: T1.2.1997 in Pattern Gallery, Floor 2.

Iznik Border tile - TI.02-B

04. Dragons in Saz leaves Ottoman, 16th century Ink on coloured paper

This Ottoman illustration features dragons confronting a simurgh emerging from saz leaves with two seal impressions. The representation in “saz-style” is quite common at the Ottoman court in the 16th century. The saz-style compositions combine in a drawing two symbols: the stylised leaf and the dragon. The most important artist and pioneer of this style is Shah Quli (d. 1555-1556) who was the head of the atelier of Suleyman the Magnificent and was well known for his drawings of dragons. See it: MIA.2013.155 in The Figure in Art Gallery, Floor 2.

Dragons in Saz Leaves - MIA.2013.155

05. Eskenazi Four-Animal Carpet Ottoman, 14th-15th century Pile weaving, wool

This carpet belongs to a small group of carpets which are said to be found in Central Asia. Their common features are images of stylised quadruped animals placed against a red background and borders decorated with pseudo-Kufic ornaments. The schematic images do not allow a firm identification of the depicted creatures. According to carbon dating, these carpets were produced in the14th century – at a time when the huge territory from China to the Danube River was unified under Mongol rule. See it: CA.77 in the Iran and Central Asia Gallery, Floor 3.

Eskenazi Four Animal Carpet - CA.77.2008-00

06. Malta ’ Ottoman, 18th or 19th century Ivory

Made of delicately carved ivory, this object was used as a cutting board for calligraphy pens. The pens, which were made of hardened reeds, had to be cut with a great deal of precision, and this required a firm surface for cutting. The Ottomans excelled in the art of calligraphy, and the many objects that accompanied the calligraphic process, such as ink stands, pen cases, and slabs of ivory for cutting pens, were often elaborately decorated. See it: IV.56.2000 in Writing in Art Gallery, Floor 2.

Maqta - IV.56-A

07. Iznik Dish Ottoman, Early 17th century Fritware, pigment

The motif of a chained leopard on this Iznik dish, set in a garden of roses and carnations, may be traced to Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. It appropriates an earlier Yuan dynasty (14th century) bowl bearing the image of a mythical creature known as a qilin, set against a mountain backdrop. See it: PO.124.1999 in The Figure in Art Gallery, Floor 2.

Iznik Dish - PO.124-A

08. Door Saljuq Sultanate, 13th century Walnut wood

This set of intricately carved wooden doors were produced in Konya during the Saljuqs of Rum dynasty, which ruled in Anatolia from 1077–1307 CE, and this object most probably dates from around 1298 CE. The inscription in the upper panels reads: “al-aqil man waazatihu altajarib wa al-jahil man la yufakir fil-awaqib” In English translation: “The wise one is he who has learnt a lesson from experience. And the ignorant one is he who does not think of the consequences.”

See it: WW.56.2003 in the Iran and Central Asia Gallery, Floor 3. 

Door - WW56-10