The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia – Part III

Josheen Oberoi of Saffronart explores the stunning new galleries of Islamic art at the Met, a few centuries at a time.

New York: For the last two weeks, I have been posting about the Islamic Art collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that opened to the public after an eight year renovation in November last year. For those reading this series for the first time, here is a little introduction on these new galleries. Organized by geographical regions and time periods (from ca. 7th century AD through ca. 20th century), these fifteen new galleries (Galleries 450 – 464) present historically rigorous exhibits of arts that flourished under the aegis of Islamic rulers through many centuries. These galleries are also incredible in representing the diversity of mediums and contexts of these artistic practices.

In the post last week, I had described the highlights of Galleries 454 through 458, as shared with me by Dr. Maryam Ekhtiar, an Associate Curator in the Department of Islamic Art.  Here’s the very useful museum map again, to help follow the information:

Floor Plan of New Galleries
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Today, I look at the arts of the Ottoman Empire (ca 1299 – 1922) that are placed in galleries 459, 460 and 461. Centered in present day Turkey, the Ottomans first emerged as a small principality at the time of the break up of the Seljuq Sultanate in Anatolia and the instability caused by Mongol rule. They subsequently expanded towards the east and west, defeating the Mamluk sultanate (discussed in the last post) in 1517, making them the strongest Islamic state in the late 15th and 16th centuries.

The Greater Ottoman Empire
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gallery 459 and 460: Ottoman Art

The Ottoman period, especially in the late 15th and 16th centuries, was defined by the royal arts, centered in Istanbul and various other artistic  and commercial centers. This era saw a further development of calligraphy, manuscript production, ceramics, carpets and textiles, amongst others.

Tughra (Official Signature) of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520–66)
Object Name: Tughra
Date: ca. 1555–60
Geography: Turkey, Istanbul
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Süleyman‘s rule (1520 – 1566) saw the most powerful Ottoman presence and patronage of the arts, as is reflected in the calligraphic signature on the left in Gallery 460. The tughra was the official individualized seal and signature used by each Ottoman ruler. The aesthetic and skillfulness achieved under Süleyman’s rule is evident in the artistic masterpiece of his signature that went beyond calligraphy to include other Islamic art motifs like floral and vegetal  vines.

Iznik was the center of ceramics under the

Vase
Date: first half 16th century
Geography: Turkey, Iznik
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ottoman rule and saw a continuation of the use of stone paste and blue and white colors. Ceramics at this time often imitated metal works. There is also a use of swirling calligraphic elements in some on the pottery that reflects the tughra used by the rulers. This is referred to as the ‘tughra-illuminator’ style. The example below demonstrates not only the ‘tughra illuminator’ style but also echoes the shape of mosque lamps from the 13th century made in Egypt that we saw in the previous post in Gallery 454 and that is also copied below to the right for your reference.

Mosque-lamp-shaped Vessel with Arabic Inscriptions
Object Name: Mosque lamp
Date: 1525–40
Geography: Turkey, Iznik
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Mosque Lamp for the Mausoleum of Amir Aydakin al-‘Ala’i al-Bunduqdar
Object Name: Mosque lamp
Date: shortly after 1285
Geography: Egypt, probably Cairo
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This gallery also has examples of royal carpets that were produced in Cairo, Egypt, and exported to the Ottoman court in Istanbul.

However, the production of carpets was not exclusively for royal use. Gallery 459 has grand carpets that were made and exported to Europe. These carpets were very popular in Europe from the 15th century onwards and can frequently be seen in paintings as well. They have come to be known by the name of the artists who depicted them. The ‘Holbein’ carpet below is named after the artist Hans Holbein the Younger who used a similarly patterned carpet in a portrait he had painted.

Holbein’ Carpet
Object Name: Carpet
Date: 15th–16th century
Geography: Turkey
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Gallery 461: the Damascus Room (18th century)

A recreation of an upper class winter reception room, the Damascus Room provides us with a clear example of late Ottoman architecture. Originating in Damascus, Syria, it also suggests the wide ranging influence of the Ottomans over the provinces it ruled over. This room in the museum consists of the original ceiling and walls, constructed of fine woodwork, and containing original inscriptions. You can read more about the history of this room and its configuration here.

I had promised this would be the final post, but to do these galleries justice, I am going to end this one here. Next week, I will talk about art from Iran, from the 16th to 19th centuries. And the week after, we’ll look at Mughal South Asia and 19th century Company paintings. Till then, I leave you with an image of the intricately constructed, beautiful Damascus Room. Make sure to visit!

Damascus Room
Object Name: Period room
Date: dated A.H. 1119/ A.D. 1707
Geography: Syria, Damascus
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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