Tughra of Suleyman the Magnificent, c.1520-66 AD
Blue and gold ink on paper
65 (height) x 85 (width) cm
Istanbul, Turkey


This calligraphic emblem (or tughra) served as the official signature for Suleyman I ‘the Magnificent’ (reigned 1520-1566), widely recognized as one of the most powerful rulers of the Ottoman Empire. Included on all official decrees, documents, seals, and coins, tughras both authenticated royal correspondence and functioned as visual representations of the sultan’s imperial authority. While court calligraphers designed a distinctive tughra for each ruler, most follow the same structure and shape, with two large loops at the left, three vertical shafts in the center, and a sweeping tail at the right. Each tughra identifies the name of the ruling sultan, his father’s name, and the phrase “the one who is always victorious.” Suleyman’s tughra is particularly elaborate with its intricate decoration of botanical motifs executed in cobalt blue and gold ink. The rich and complex illumination reflects this sultan’s patronage of the arts, as well as the practical need to prevent forgeries of official documents.
As ruler of a vast empire encompassing diverse peoples and cultures, Suleyman used this tughra to visually communicate his wealth and power from the royal court (present day Istanbul, Turkey) throughout the land. While the tughra names the sultan in Arabic, it also includes Turkish, connecting the languages of both the spiritual and secular realms.


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