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Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent

1494 - 1520 - 1566 (72)


Books about Constantinople, Byzantium, Istanbul, Suleiman, and the Ottomans


Link to Europe's Leaders 1500 - 1550


Link to the Topkapi Palace, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and the Magic of Ottoman Constantinople (later Istanbul)


Link to Justinian's Byzantine Constantinople



Sultan Suleiman I (1494 - 1520 - 1566 (72)) “The Magnificent” and “The Law Giver” reigned for 46 years from 1520 as the tenth and greatest ruler of the Ottoman Empire.  His father, Selim I ("the Grim"), who ruled from 1512 to 1520, had conquered Egypt and become the first Sultan to also take the title of Caliph.   Selim had all of Suleiman’s brothers and close male relatives put to death, thus ensuring a smooth succession.  Luckily, he chose the right guy to keep alive.


During Suleiman’s long rule (which was also the time in which the Nation State structure of Europe was firming up) the geographic bounds of the Ottoman Empire reached what proved to be their maximum extent.  The Ottomans controlled the Mediterranean and in the North their armies knocked on the gates of Vienna (but did not get in) after overrunning Hungary, and Habsburg Emperor Charles V was humiliated into signing the Treaty of Constantinople.   In the East he reached Tabriz and conquered Baghdad in 1534 - the Baghdad Pavilion in the Topkapi Palace was built to celebrate this victory.


Outside of hands-on generalship, Suleiman "The Law Giver" drove the development of a legal system which codified the rights and duties of all the citizens of his huge domains.  He promoted art and architecture, and was himself no mean poet, often writing of his love for his chief wife - Roxelana.


This arresting portrait is the sole survivor of a series of artist's workshop copies made of an original painted by the Venetian artist Titian (1487 - 1576 (89)).   It was common in this era for several workshop copies of originals to be made.  The original was done for Federico Gonzaga around 1538, and subsequently disappeared around the time that many other Gonzaga paintings were bought by King Charles I of England, whose promising career as an art collector was brought to an abrupt halt by Ollie Cromwell.  We stood for some time in front of this painting (which is quite cracked up when seen face to face) when it was was exhibited in the 2002  blockbuster Gonzaga exhibition in Mantova.  It's is usually on show in Vienna in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Schloss Ambras.


Despite its appearance, neither Titian nor, as far as is known, any other western artist  ever actually came face to face with Suleiman, and it must have been a bit of a challenge finding images (probably from coins / medals) to work from.



The Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent


The Ottoman Imperial Chancellery in Istanbul issued some of the most magnificent official documents ever produced by any civil service.  Important documents were surmounted with the Sultan’s Tughra  - his official monogram, always elaborately and intricately decorated. 


The Tughra consisted of the Sultan’s name and that of his father (here Suleiman and Selim Shah) and usually the attribute ‘al-muzaffar da’iman’ - ‘ever victorious’. 


Only the ‘S’ shaped lines at the top, on the so-called ‘tigh’ are purely decorative, the remaining strokes being part of the name and attribute.  A wooden block stamp ("chop" in the Japanese tradition) would often be used for less important everyday documents. 


Wonderful representations of Tughras are to be seen on many of the walls and portals in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. 


Left:  "Suleiman the Magnificent, taken ill during the Szigetvar Campaign, is helped by his Grand Vizier to dismount his horse and go into his carriage". 


Suleiman died on 7 September 1566 aged 72 whilst besieging Sziget in Hungary.

The three images below are taken from the catalogue for the British Museum Suleiman exhibition staged in 1988.


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This portrait of Suleiman in the late 1550s by the sea captain Haydar Reis is the only surviving portrait known to have been done from life.

Suleiman and Roxelana as shown in an anonymous Venetian woodcut dated c 1550 - both images are apocryphal





Link to the Topkapi Palace, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and the Magic of Ottoman Constantinople (later Istanbul)


Link to Justinian's Byzantine Constantinople


Link to a good illustrated narrative account of Suleiman's life          Link to Wikipedia page on Suleimen the Magnificent


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All original work © Adrian Fletcher 2000-2015 - not to be reproduced without permission