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Topkapi Palace :: Textiles and Kaftans

Textiles and Kaftans

The Topkapi Museum possesses the world's finest collection of Turkish textiles and kaftans. This is due largely to the fact that the kaftans of each Ottoman sultan from the time of Mehmet II onwards ( 1451-1481) were traditionally preserved in the Palace Treasury. From the end of the 19th century onwards, the sultan kaftans were shown to diplomatic guests in the treasury, a practice that was later carried over from the late Ottoman period into the Republic. The kaftans were moved into the Privy Chamber Guard Quarters (now the Calligraphy Section) in 1947, and in 1964 to their present place in the Campaign Page Quarters.

The Textile Collection includes children's kaftans, ceremonial and everyday kaftans and other items of royal costume such as shirts and pantaloons, caps, pouches and turbans, as well as household fabrics in the form of quilts, sheets and prayer rugs, decorative cushion covers, wall coverings and floor rugs.

Most of the kaftans are made of cloth of local origin, although the collection does include those of Iranian, Italian and Spanish origin. We have records of cloth being ordered from overseas by the Ottoman Palace. We also know that 'Turkish cloth', kemha (brocade) in particular, was employed for papal vestments. Such cloth was ordered from Ottoman Turkey and made up in Europe where it was embroidered with cruciform and other appropriate motifs. A number of vestments of this kind ate to be seen in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Benaki Museum in Athens and in several European monasteries, and are evidence of the extent of trade in Ottoman textiles after the 15th century.

We Know to whom each Ka belonged as these fine garments, which constitute the most significant part o costume collection, have been individually labeled after the death of each sultan stored under these names. We can therefore, date most of them from period of Mehmet the Conqueror ( century) through to that of Mehmet V (Resat) (20th century) .Western dress adopted by the sultans during the time of Mahmut II (1808-1839), after which sultans possessed both traditional kaftans and Europeanized dress.

Other than certain small detail form of the kaftan changed very little over the centuries, as we can see from the the imperial collection. The sultans full-skirted kaftans with stiff yolks over-garments, which were front-but and long-sleeved, the sleeves broad lined with plain silk. Ceremonial kaftans were more decorative and imposing appearance, the hem longer, often trailing the floor, and elongated sleeves trailing behind the hem of the kaftans. These were sometimes attached separately during a ceremony.

Winter kaftans are easily distinguishable from summer wear, lined with sable, ermine squirrel, fox and martin, or quilted with cotton.

Documentary material in the archives relating to Ottoman text encyclopaedic, although only a few fabrics have been matched to the vast number of names in the archives. The imperial costumes, especially kaftans, tend to be of heavy brocade-for which the generic term is kemha- and plain and double-pile or catma velvet. Apart from the brocade classed as kemha, there are several other types of brocade of silk wrought with silver and gold thread; these include seraser and serenk, both gilded silk brocades; zerbaft -a heavy gold brocade; and atlas, also classed as a silk brocade.

Other fabrics include taffeta or taftai; damascened brocade or diba; silk brocade wrought with gold or hatai; felt or aba; broadcloth or cuha; camelot or sof; warp- dyed satin or kutni; and finer fabrics such as gezi-a fine watered silk; canfez-a silk muslin gauze; and burumcuk -a fine- spun raw silk gauze. Canfez, gezi and atlas are self -patterned weaves, aba, cuha and sof being plain non-patterned fabrics. Some of the fabrics mentioned can be identified by their warp-stripe or small- motif pattern, or by their damascened surface.

Sultan kaftans were mostly made of heavy brocade with metal thread classed as kemha-a closely woven fabric which was extremely stiff and difficult to tailor, but was preferred for ceremonial occasions as it gave the impression of rigid immobility in the wearer, and encouraged the stiff deportment expected of sultans. Kemha was also eminently suited as a furnishing fabric and was frequently used as such. It is essentially a double-layered weave with silk warp and weft and a supplementary weft of gold or silver thread. A number of different types of kemha are referred to in archival documents, such as 'yekrenk kemha', 'pesuri kemha', 'muehhip kemha' and 'gulistanli kemha'. Only the latter brocade, that of 'gulistanli kemha' has been subjected to detailed technical analysis. A tightly-warped cloth with eight to nine thousand warp threads, there are two kaftans in this fabric in the collection (nos. 13/529 and13/37). The kemha kaftans of Sultans Bayezit II (13/35) and Selim II (13/177) are also worthy of note.

Double-piled velvet or catma was also much used for kaftans. It is a firm, closely woven fabric, the pattern delineated in velvet pile on a background of plain weave often wrought with metal thread. Telli catma-or double-pile velvet wrought with metal thread-was, according to documentary evidence, formerly woven in the Ottoman towns of Bursa and Bilecik.

During the 18th century, it was produced in Istanbul in workshops around Ayazma Mosque in Uskudar, and in the 19th century by weavers around Selimiye Mosque in Istanbul. Widely used as upholstery fabric too, cushion covers and lengths of catma were exported extensively to Europe, which is why Turkish catma can be found in a number of museums in America and Europe. There are four royal catma kaftans in the Topkapi collection, those of Mehmet the Conqueror (13/8), Suleyman the Magnificent (13/840) , Mehmet III (13/834) and Murat III (13/216). Plain silk velvet was relatively less used for kaftans. Basically a looped pile cloth; the pile is trimmed in Turkish velvets to give the fabric a smooth or a two-level contoured surface, as in catma. Both the warp and weft of the Palace velvets are silk, with in some cases metal strip woven into the weft.

Seraser is a tightly woven, stiff gilt brocade with a silk warp and weft of gilded silver or silver strip giving it a brilliant sheen. Extremely heavy and valuable because of the metal strip weft, this fabric was largely reserved for ceremonial kaftans. The number of workshops in which seraser was woven were from time to time restricted by imperial order to control the consumption of silver strip, which was used liberally in this type of cloth; hence the cost to the crown of silver was kept under control. The seraser kaftan of Selim II (13/177) is a fine example of the fabric at its most brilliant condition.

Serenk is a two-color brocade also used in the making of kaftans. It is similars to kemha in structure and appearance but instead of the metal strip, yellow silk is used in the weft, giving the cloth its characteristic golden sheen. The use of silken thread instead of metal strip also renders the fabric softer and more supple. There are two main types of serenk, an unpatterned 'sade serenk' and a stippled fabric or 'Sahbenek.' The kaftans of Bayezit II and Selim I (13/41) are two of the finest examples of this cloth in existence.

A number of kaftans were made of monochrome silk satin or atlas, a tightly woven cloth of fine silk with considerable body which was consistently preferred over the centuries for its fine sheen, close in character to that of the silken thread from which it was woven. There are many kinds of atlas, mainly dark burgundy red, cream, yellow and blue. The embroidered kaftan of Crown Prince Mehmet (13/738) is of burgundy atlas.

The other kind of cloth encountered among the kaftans was selimiye-a patterned silk fabric (both warp and weft of silk) generally decorated with warp stripes, florettes or small motifs in offset repeated in various colors. This kind of cloth, which first appears in 18th century costume, can be seen in the kaftan of Mahmut I (13/554).

The textiles in the collection were mainly woven exclusively for the court in Palace workshops, the colors and quality being especially suited to the imperial purse and preference. The most favored ground color was burgundy red, which is combined with a number of contrasting colors, resulting with an extraordinary tonal harmony. Motifs and patterns are taken from the common repertoire of the Ottoman decorative arts and may equally be encountered on artifacts from other branches of the arts of the period such as rugs and embroideries, ceramic tiles, marble relief and metalwork. Boldly outlined motifs, mainly floriated and foliate in character, such as tulips, carnations, peonies, hyacinths, plane leaves, lanceolate leaves, curved stems, blossoming branches, giant pine cones and pomegranates are the mainstay of this repertoire.

The less common triple dot device often accompanied by the so-called 'chintemani' or stylized cloud motif, the seal of Solomon and Sunburst motifs also figure on imperial fabrics as do animal motifs, although rarely, namely stags and gazelles entwined with curved stems, addorsed peacocks and peacock feather sprays.

Motifs recur in endless repeat patterns of alternate ogival medallions on a single axis or offset on alternate axes, lateral pairs of curved flowers and leaves springing from parallel stems, or floral sprays springing from a single point to cover the surface of the fabric. One rather fine pattern used in kaftans, of the so- called 'saz yolu' type consist of interlacing fine stems and lanceolate leaves.

The collection also contains leather overntantles, also classed as kaftans, and embroidered kaftans of some interest, as well as some press-patterned over plain- dyed cloth and stamped with gilt and silver, and a large number of imperial shirts and drawers, quilted leggings, soft slippers or kalcin (a kind of very thick stocking) and undershirts.

Among the shirts are nearly sixty very curious talismanic shirts, some of which can be identified as the property of particular members of the imperial family, such as the shirt dated 1480, bearing the same of Prince Cem (Cem Sultan) (13/1404). These shirts were designed to protect the wearer from malevolent forces, to ward off genies, sickness, wild beasts or human foes. The shirts were covered with inscriptions and characters of magical or auspicious value, arranged in a grid pattern, and are calligraphically related in character to the art of the manuscript.

The costumes of the ladies of the court have long been the subject of conjecture. We have very few actual examples to hand, as there was no tradition parallel to that which has led to the preservation of the costumes of the sultans.

Most of the harem costumes in the collection were acquired, by bequest or purchase, from members of the imperial family and private collectors when the Palace was turned into a museum, but it is by no means representative. Nineteenth century dressmakers' accounts books inform us that cloth imported from Europe by special order was utilized in the making of costumes for the female members of the royal family. It is costumes of that era that we have in the Palace collection.

Ottoman textiles of the finest quality were produced from the 14th to the 17th centuries, but fine textile weaving began to disappear towards the end of the 17th century, there being an even more marked decline in the industry in the 18th century.

Some new local textiles did appear in the 18th century such as Selimiye and Uskudar catma, but, as in the west, the Ottoman market was largely inundated with mass-produced European fabrics following the innovations and modifications to weaving looms introduced by the French engineer, Jaquard in 1876.

The revolution in the European textile industry led to the decline of the centuries old fabric industry in Turkey. It was not until the reign of Abdulmecit (1839-1861) that some attempt was made to revive it, with the removal of the Feyzhane factory from Kadirga to Eyup where steam-powered looms were introduced in 1843.

A textile factory was opened the following year, in 1844, at Hereke, and brocade weaving was begun there shortly afterwards. This factory is still in operation, producing heavy 'Ottoman' weaves to order.

 



Above text and pictures are from the book titled "Topkapi Palace Hardcover".

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