Turkish Miniature Depictions of the Ceremonial Bestowal of the Imperial Robe of Honor
Keywords: Ottoman, Miniature, Robe of Honor, Arabic, History, Turk
This article acquaints the reader with Ottoman miniature paintings documenting the tradition of the presentation by the sultan and the grand vizier of caftans, known as hil'at, for the purpose of honoring foreign envoys and state officials and which occupied a prominent place in Ottoman Court protocol until the reign of Sultan Mahmud I (1808-39). Introduction to the subject comprises a summary of sources and published research on the occasions in Ottoman Court protocol at which the imperial robe of honor was bestowed and the various types of robes of honor. This is followed by a discussion of the miniatures that depict the ceremonial of the awarding of the robe of honor in the 16th-century illuminated albums titled "Nusretnâme" [Book of Victory] (Topkapı Palace Museum no. H.1365), "Şecaatnâme" [Book of Valor] (İstanbul University Library no. T.6043), "Şehinşehnâme" [Book of the King of Kings] (Topkapı Palace Museum no. B.200), "Tarih-i Feth-i Yemen" [History of the Conquest of Yemen] (İstanbul University Library no. T.6045) and "Surnâme-i Hümayun" [Book of the Imperial Circumcision Feast] (Topkapı Palace Museum no. H.1344). In the light of the evidence of the miniatures, recipients of the imperial robes of honor and settings for their presentation included successful Ottoman commanders in their imperial tents in the course of a campaign and also foreign officials, signifying their political submission to Ottoman rule. Moreover, evidence newly extracted from the miniatures discloses that the custom of granting robes of honor at the circumcision feasts of the princes was not the preserve only of state officials and foreign envoys, but that children of the poor and the imperial pages were also included. In the ceremonial for the conferral of these robes-each enfolded in a cloth wrapper-the person so honored was also invariably bestowed with a sword and a horse with trappings and, from time to time, an aigrette and a turban. Since the caftans as they appear in the paintings are gold in color, they may have been fashioned from the silk fabric seraser, woven with gold filament or silk thread wrapped in gold tinsel. In conclusion, it is demonstrated that these miniatures have the capacity to enlighten us in regard to this tradition, which played a conspicuous role in the protocol of the Ottoman Court. By offering evidence to support that furnished by the written record, miniature paintings manifestly possess the authority of a documentary source.