BATTLE SHIRT OF ERTUGRUL GAZI and Talisman Shirt

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BATTLE SHIRT OF ERTUGRUL GAZI 

The history of blessed shirts goes back a very long way. The Prophet Joseph (Peace be unto him) #Yusuf in Arabic, is believed to have owned one that protected him from hardship and evil. It is even credited with performing blessings (barakaat) – as when it restored the vision of Joseph’s father, Jacob (Peace be unto him) #Yaqub in Arabic, following an instruction recorded in the Qur’an, Surah Yusuf (XII, verse 93):

اذْهَبُواْ بِقَمِيصِي هَـذَا فَأَلْقُوهُ عَلَى وَجْهِ أَبِي يَأْتِ بَصِيرًا وَأْتُونِي بِأَهْلِكُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ

“Take this, my shirt, and cast it over the face of my father; he will become seeing. And bring me your family, all together.”

Blessed shirts such as these were of immense religious and monetary value amongst Muslim rulers and elites in Africa and Asia. Four distinctive types of Islamic blessed shirts have been identified:

1) Ottoman,
2) Safavid,
3) Mughal and
4) West African

But none on hand in museums can be dated to earlier than the 15th century.

Each group has its own unique stylistic approach to the shape of the garments and the blessed Quran verses used, as well as the design of the Calligraphy. A very small number of these garments are signed and dated, one of which belongs to the Ottoman group and is housed in the Topkapı Palace Museum in Istanbul.

The Topkapı shirt was commissioned for Cem Sultan (d.1495), son of Sultan Mehmed II, and includes not only the exact date and time at which the construction of the shirt was begun, (30 March 1477, Tuesday, 12:36pm, the Sun in 19 degrees Aries), but also the exact date and time it was finished (29 March 1480, Sunday 3:57am, the Sun in 19 degrees Aries). Topkapı’s dated example gives an unusually accurate idea of how time consuming the production of such garments could be – three years to complete a single shirt.

Unfortunately, by its nature of its ‘secret’ use, there are very few sources that discuss or even mention the use of these objects. One source, written in the 1530’s in Istanbul, describes a battle shirt made by a pious man in Mecca through which neither bullets nor swords could penetrate. That shirt was commissioned for the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520—1527) by his wife Hürrem Sultan, and still survives to this day. It is also housed in the Topkapı Palace Museum in Istanbul.

Though blessed shirts were used as protection from disease, famine, difficult child birth, sudden death, and the unpredictability of travel, it is believed that the majority of these shirts were meant for use in battle.

Particular verses from the Qur’an that refer to victory were commonly inscribed on shirts worn under armour – the very word of God was intended to protect the owner while they fight.

AllahuAlam
(God Knows Best)

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A talisman is an object that has protective powers. In Islam, most talismanic objects are designed and decorated with astrological signs, magic squares, abjad numerals, religious narratives, representations of the prophets in a variety of media, and Qur’anic inscriptions. The Arabic text of the Qur’an is sacred to Muslims and because of this, many believe that an object which is inscribed with the words of God will protect the person who reads, touches, carries or sees it from misfortune and evil. Talismanic objects were made in many different forms and sizes, and some were even worn as clothing, as in the case of the shirt discussed here.

The history of talismanic shirts goes back a very, very long way. The prophet Joseph (Yusuf in Arabic) is believed to have owned one that protected him from hardship and evil. It is even credited with performing miracles – as when it restored the vision of Joseph’s father Jacob (Ya‘qub in Arabic), following an instruction recorded in the Qur’an, Surah Yusuf (XII, verse 93):

اذْهَبُواْ بِقَمِيصِي هَـذَا فَأَلْقُوهُ عَلَى وَجْهِ أَبِي يَأْتِ بَصِيرًا وَأْتُونِي بِأَهْلِكُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ

“Take this, my shirt, and cast it over the face of my father; he will become seeing. And bring me your family, all together.”

The talismanic shirt to be displayed in the show has been attributed to India and dated to some time in the 15th or 16th century. It was produced during the period of the Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526), a Muslim state that ruled over vast areas of the Indian subcontinent. Early examples of these shirts from India, such as the one chosen for The Fabric of India exhibition, are exceptionally rare – especially so, one in such wonderful condition. At first viewing, this shirt appears to be made from paper, but like the majority of surviving talismanic shirts, the V&A’s shirt is actually made from cotton. It is constructed from three pieces of cloth that were stiffened and polished: one large rectangular length with a circular opening for the neck and a slit at the front so that it could pass over the wearer’s head, and two smaller pieces forming the arms.

The Textile and Science Conservation teams at the V&A carried out analysis on the cloth to find out what was used to stiffen it. Their results showed traces of starch, which was commonly used in the Islamic world in the size used for the surface treatment of paper and textiles. Size was applied as a paste, and once dry, it was polished, forming a reflective, smooth surface. Using size was crucial as it provided scribes and illuminators with a smooth surface to work on, allowing them to accomplish the high precision and quality seen in this example. Of course, it also stiffened the cotton, like the starch we still use today.

It may seem impossible, and is certainly incredible, but the entire text of the Qur’an adorns the surface of this shirt. Most of the text is densely packed into square compartments separated by gold rules, with gold medallions at every intersection, and bordered in bright red and blue. On the outside, the areas containing the text are framed by blue, gold and red rules, all outlined in black. The remaining text is included in a fringe of pointed lappets around the bottom fo the main design. Between the two sections of text, the asma-al-husna, the ninety-nine names of God, are executed in gold Bihari script on a wide border with a ground cross-hatched and speckled in red. Bihari is an Indian style of writing the Arabic script. The style’s origins are obscure, but it is closely associated with the Sultanate period, and it began to fade out with the arrival of the Mughals in India at the beginning of the 16th century.

The Quranic text begins on the back of the right sleeve and ends on the bottom left hand side. The Qur’an consist of 114 chapters, each known as a surah, and on the shirt the name of each surah has been inscribed in red, followed by the main text written in a type of naskh script.  Small, six-petalled gold flowers are scattered at the centres of the text squares, and are here used as a decorative device. However, in Qur’anic manuscripts this type of roundel is used to separate each ayah, or verse, of every surah. Two large roundels on the front of the shirt contain the Shahadah, the profession of faith, written in gold thuluth script over a red and blue background. The shoulders are decorated with cartouches, which repeat the word ‘Allah’ within three circles on each side. Finally, a section of one of the verses from Surah Yusuf (XII, verse 64) is inscribed in gold on a ground cross-hatched and speckled in red on the back of the shirt, placed in a long cartouche, outlined in blue and red. They read:

فَاللَّهُ خَيْرٌحَافِظًا وَهُوَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ

‘But God is the best to take care (of him), and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy!’

The shirt can be dated from the style of the script and illumination, which although on a textile object, speak more expressively as representatives of the art of the book. The Bihari script written in gold, the illumination in blue, red and black, the cartouches and roundels containing chequerboard patterns, and the small red and blue motif resembling the word ‘Allah’ in Arabic script closely relate to surviving manuscripts attributed to the Sultanate period. The images below are examples from Indian 15th and 16th century Qur’an.

Talismanic shirts such as these were of immense religious and monetary value amongst Muslim rulers and elites in Africa and Asia. Four distinctive types of Islamic talismanic shirts have been identified: Ottoman, Safavid, Mughal (Indian) and West African –none of which can be dated to earlier than the 15th century. Each group has its own unique stylistic approach to the shape of the garments and the talismanic formulas used, as well as the design of the illumination. A very small number of these garments are signed and dated, one of which belongs to the Ottoman group and is housed in the Topkapı Palace Museum in Istanbul. The Topkapı shirt was commissioned for Cem Sultan (d.1495), son of Sultan Mehmed II, and includes not only the exact date and time at which the construction of the shirt was begun, (30 March 1477, Tuesday, 12:36pm, the Sun in 19 degrees Aries), but also the exact date and time it was finished (29 March 1480, Sunday 3:57am, the Sun in 19 degrees Aries). Topkapı’s dated example gives an unusually accurate idea of how time consuming the production of such garments could be – three years to complete a single shirt.

By comparison to how accurate curators can sometimes be about the making of these incredible shirts, their function is far more debatable. Unfortunately, there are very few sources that discuss or even mention the use of these objects. One source, written in the 1530’s in Istanbul, describes a shirt made by a holy man in Mecca through which neither bullets nor swords could penetrate. That shirt was commissioned for the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520—1527) by his wife Hürrem Sultan, and still survives to this day. It is also housed in the Topkapı Palace Museum in Istanbul. Though talismanic shirts were used as protection from disease, famine, difficult child birth, sudden death, and the unpredictability of travel, it is believed that the majority of these shirts were meant for use in battle. Particular verses from the Qur’an that refer to victory were commonly inscribed on shirts worn under armour – the word of God was intended to protect the owner while they fought. The V&A’s example belongs to this group of shirts: the presence of the verse from Surah Yusuf, referring to protection and mercy, indicates the shirt’s purpose. Fascinatingly, there is even evidence that this shirt really did fulfil this purpose: if you take a close look you can see signs of soiling from wear – the sweat of the wearer having caused the loss of the decoration under the arms

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talismanic shirt (or talisman shirt; Turkish: tılsımlı gömlek) is a worn textile talismanic object. Talismanic shirts are found throughout the Islamic world. The shirts can be grouped to four types which differ in style and the symbols used: an Ottoman, a Safavid, a Mughal and a West African one.[1]

A talismanic shirt in the collection of the Topkapı Palace Museum

The earliest surviving examples were made approximately in 15th century,[1] though the tradition of talismanic shirts might be much older. In the Surah Yusuf of the Quran a shirt of the prophet Yusuf is described as giving him protection and even miracle-working. He hands it over so it can heal the blindness of his father Yaqub: “Go with this my shirt, and cast it over the face of my father: he will come to see”[Quran 12:93].

15th–early 16th century Talismanic Shirt in the Metropolitan Museum. Attributed to Northern India or Deccan. Cotton, ink, gold; plain weave, painted

The shirts may be inscribed with verses from Quran, names of Allah and of prophets and with numbers. They may carry images or symbols, e.g. astrological ones. The inscribed names are believed to be capable of offering protection and guidance to the carrier.[2] Although talismanic shirts can be worn to protect against many evils most of them seem to be intended as a shield in battle.[1]

 

Some examples in public collections

Talismanic shirt depicting the holy sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina, 16th or early 17th century, Khalili Collection of Hajj and the Arts of Pilgrimage
  • Talismanic shirt, Bursa, Turkey, end of the 14th–beginning of the 15th century, Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, Istanbul, accession number 539[3]
  • Talismanic shirt for Sultan Cem, 1480, Topkapı Palace Museum, Istanbul. It was produced when Cem was still Şehzade. The begin and end of the manufacturing of the object are precisely indicated by one of its inscription what is unusual.
  • Talismanic shirt for Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Topkapı Palace Museum, Istanbul. It was commissioned by Suleiman’s wife Hürrem Sultan.[1]
  • Talismanic shirt, Northern India or Deccan, 15th–early 16th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, accession number 1998.199[4]
  • Talismanic shirt, India, 15th–16th century, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, accession number T.59-1935[1]

 

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