This sumptuous Ottoman velvet has been unseen on the market for almost 40 years. It was bought at Colnaghi, London in 1980 where it was presented as part of a group of Imperial Ottoman Textiles that was assembled in major part by Baron Edmond de Rothschild (d.1934) in the early part of the 20th century. Baron and Baroness Edmond de Rothschild collected in many areas, a principle one of which was textiles. They looked for these as they travelled to Iran, Russia and Turkey, at a time where there was an expansion of interest in the Islamic world.
This panel is formed of two cushion covers, or yastik yüzü. In 17th century Bursa, home of the Ottoman silk industry, yastik were usually woven in pairs or in fours. Rarely however, do they survive together as ours do. They would decorate low benches – or sofa – that lined the walls of Ottoman interiors. The walls would themselves probably have been covered with brocade, adding to the atmosphere. Ottaviano Bon, a Venetian living in Istanbul between 1604 and 1607 wrote of the Sultan’s private rooms, ‘The floors…with their sofas…are about half a cubit from the ground…all covered with the richest Persian carpets…and the quilts for sitting on and the cushions to lean against were all of the finest brocades in gold and silk’ (quoted in Jennifer M. Wearden, Turkish Velvet Cushion Covers¸ London, 1986, p.1). This pair of fine Ottoman velvet yastik give an insight into the rich world of the Ottomans that Bon would have encountered on his travels.
It has been suggested that the ogival design seen here, was inspired through exposure to Egyptian Mamluk textiles (Yanni Petsopoulos (ed.), Tulips, Arabesques and Turbans. Decorative Arts from the Ottoman Empire, London, 1982, p.128). The lappets that frame the covers at top and bottom, also possibly owe their origins to Mamluk design. An embroidered Mamluk cushion cover in the Ashmolean Museum shares a similar feature (inv.no.1984.172). On our velvet, both the ogival centre and the lappets have taken on a completely Ottoman life of their own – filled with an abundance of elegant tulips, carnations and blossoms that embody the aesthetic of the Ottoman workshop.
These lappets can also help us date the textile. A yastik in the Bädisches Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe, though different in overall design, has a closely comparable border to ours. That is known to have been inventoried there are part of the Türkenbeute in 1691 giving it a terminus ante quem, and suggesting a similar for ours (Nurhan Atasoy Walter B. Denny, Louise W. Mackie and Hülya Tezcan, Ipek. The Crescent and the Rose. Imperial Ottoman Velvets, London, 2001, p.251, no.68). Similar textiles can also be found in contemporaneous miniatures. A painting from the Surnama of Vehbi dated to circa 1720, depicts a procession of present bearers and soldiers (in the Topkapi Saray Museum, inv.A.3595 fol.27a; Wearden, op.cit., p.6). In the background of the painting are two canopies beneath which two cushions are propped up. Each has clear lappet borders and central medallions framed by spandrels – very similar to those found on our yastiks.
The overall decorative composition of our textile was one that became popular in the Ottoman period. Yastiks with the same decorative arrangement as ours are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, attributed to circa 1700-29 (inv.no.842-1852; http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O319441/cushion-cover-unknown/#) and the State Historical Museum, Moscow – formerly in the P.I. Schoukine Collection (inv.no.GIM-19201; Oriental and European Fabrics in the Collection of the State History Museum, illustrated in the introduction). It is worth noting however, that our velvet far surpasses these others in terms of finesse. This may suggest that it is an earlier version of the production of a design that later gained in popularity. A velvet closer to ours than the V&A and Moscow examples, in terms of the sensitivity of the execution, is in the Topkapi Palace Museum (inv.no.13/1441; Nurhan Atasoy et al, op.cit., 2001, pp.320-21, fig.362). Its presence there indicates that it was made for use at the Ottoman Court and by extension it is likely that our yastiks were too. This fine panel is a rare survival of a court quality velvet, with outstanding provenance.