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Lot 139. A large and exceptional Ottoman voided silk velvet and metal-thread panel (çatma), with çintamani and tiger-stripe design, Turkey, late 16th-early 17th century. Estimate 200,000 — 300,000 GBP. Photo: Sotheby's.

woven in two parts, joined vertically through the centre, the dark cerise voided silk velvet ground woven with rows of cintamani motifs in silver metal thread wrapped ivory silk, and 'tiger-stripes', woven in silver metal thread wrapped yellow silk, mounted onto a stretcher and enclosed within frame. Framed: approximately 174 by 133cm. Textile: approximately 162 by 120cm.

Property from the Collection of Argine Benaki Salvago

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Exterior of the Salvago Villa, Alexandria

NoteA favourite element of the Ottoman design repertoire from the early fifteenth century through to the eighteenth century is the çintamani, and importantly it is found on Bursa produced velvets which are traditionally thought to be amongst the oldest Ottoman silk fabrics.

The Ottoman çintamani (‘auspicious jewel’) is the pattern of a triangle of three spots and a pair of wavy bands. The unknown age and source of this pattern may predate Ottoman rule by over a thousand years. This motif was a Tamga, sign or brand used by Tamerlane (1336-1405), and Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, a Spanish envoy to Samarkand, recorded that Tamerlane used the device on his coinage and property. The motif can be traced back to the Buddhist period in China, and had a different association, with the circles representing pearls and the bands, flames, waves or halo-like sanctity. Known as the çintamani in the Ottoman Empire, the pair of wavy bands are associated with the tiger-stripes and the spots alluded to leopard spots (pelengi – leopard like). Leopard pelts being the clothing of heroes in Persian tradition. The çintamani became associated with rulership, strength and power, and the mani (spots) symbolic of purity. The ancient associations evolved into a general token of good luck. The decorative motif was used by the Ottoman court artists in all the decorative arts, in compositions that varied with almost every period from the 15th century onward. It also appeared in traditional Anatolian rug designs under Sultan Selim I (1512-20) and thereafter became more widespread in Central Asia. The layout and combinations of the spots and stripes within the design vary. The textiles generally used combinations of a deep crimson velvet and metal-thread wrapped silk in the compositions.

In archival entries after 1550, Istanbul is referred to as the second centre of weaving, after Bursa. Silk and silk products were one of the greatest sources of revenue. The manufacture and trade resulted in the rise of important weaving centres, initially in Bursa and then from the mid-sixteenth century, the court workshops attached to the palace. Ottoman court fabrics were synonymous with fabrics of very high technical and artistic excellence, and were considered status items which were highly valued by the Ottomans and those to whom they were given as gifts. There was strict control over the craft, and the archives recall that from 1574 the Istanbul workshops were to take over the production of the gold fabrics in order to avoid extravagance in the use of the gold and silver used. The importance of the textiles is recorded in both the sixteenth century archives and in the exquisite miniatures produced showing in detail the textiles worn and used by the court to create a magnificent spectacle.  

The existing archival lists of fabrics document the use of the motif in fabrics of the second half of the fifteenth century. In 1483 the Ambassador of Venice is recorded as having received three types of Bursa fabric, one of which is “dotted fabric” (Bursa’nin altinli benekli çatmasi). Sometimes only the leopard spots appear as in the early sixteenth century short sleeved kaftan belonging to Sultan Selim I of crimson brocaded satin (serenk) with triple spot motif in golden silk now in the Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul (Roger 1986, p.48, pl.10). The continuation of the appeal of the motif is evident in a miniature of Selim I hunting, circa 1570, in the Topkapi Museum library (Inv. no. H 2134/2), in which the cloak worn by the attendant falconer has a clear design of the çintamani, combination of tiger stripes (some of vertical orientation) and leopard spots, with a row of tiger stripes alternating with row of leopard spots (Gürsu 1988, p.57, III.fig.6).

The adoption of the çintamani motif is found in a short sleeved kaftan (possibly belonging to Mehmet II, the Conqueror (1451-1481)), late-fifteenth century, in the Topkapi Museum (Rogers 1986, p.47, no.2), which has repeating rows of alternating tiger stripes and leopard spot motifs.

Comparable examples of compound satin and silk velvet and metal-thread brocade çintamani fragments:-

Examples with a design that alternates the use of the three large çintamani with a set of smaller çintamani with the apex of the triangles also alternating, similar to the design of the present panel in that the tiger stripes are on one horizontal row, and the çintamani are on the row above, include:

A length with çintamani pattern, second half fifteenth century, 138 by 67.6cm, Musées royaux d’art et d’histoire, Brussels (Inv. no. IS.Tx.792. Acquisition: Bought by I. Errera from Hakky Bey in Paris in 1897 and donated to the museum); Cahen-Delhaye 2004; V.3.23., pp.93-94; this panel, with exceptionally dense pile, has a count that is double that of other velvets (with the exception of a fragment, of different arrangement, in The Metropolitan Museum and cited below);

A shaped fragment, Bursa, possibly late fifteenth century, 47 by 24cm, Textile Museum, Washington (Inv. no. 1.44. Purchase 1943); Mackie 1973, no. 2.p.44;

A similarly composed circular fragment, circa 1500, 63cm diameter, considered to be the lining of a ceremonial shield, Topkapi Palace Museum (Inv. no. 1/2454), Atasoy 2001, p.299.,fig.290;

A small fragment, Bursa, second half 15th century, 28.5 by 26cm, Private Collection; Gürsu 1988; pp.88-89;

Other comparables which only differ with offset arrangements of the three spots, include: Berlin, Kunstgewerbemuseum, Inv. no. 98.401; Bruges, Gruuthuse Museum, Inv.no.192-XVI; Düsseldorf, Kunstmuseum, Inv. no. 8765; London, Victoria & Albert Museum, Inv. no. 356; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Examples of similar fragments with the repeat pattern of rows of alternating tiger stripes and leopard spots include:

A shaped fragment, Bursa, possibly late fifteenth or sixteenth century, 76 by 62cm, Textile Museum Washington (Inv. no. 1.77. Purchase 1952), Mackie 1973, no. 1.p.43;

A length, late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, 70 by loom width 63.5cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Inv. no. 08.109.23); Atasoy 2001, p.299., fig.287.

Always considered precious artefacts, the survival of the garments (specifically the kaftans), the fragments, the related archives, together with the miniatures are a testimony to the prestige and magnificence of the fabrics of the Ottoman court; the present large panel is an exceptional example of these particularly evocative çintamani brocaded velvets of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Sotheby's. Arts of the Islamic World, London, 26 Apr 2017, 10:30 AM