In the Islamic Middle East collection, Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), has many beautiful kaftans. I chose this (right picture)from its gathering and I am going to explore how they wore it,and what kind of status it had. This kaftan was worn by a 19 years-old son of the Sultan Murat IIIin 16th century, Turkey. It was made of woven silk and gold or silver wrapped thread.
It was brocaded 8-point star in blue and gold colour. The base colour of this fabric is cream-white that made beautiful contrasts between its textile and 8-points star patterns. Concerning the prince, he was executed by his half-brother, Mehmet III as soon as the Sultan Murat III, their father, died in 1595.
According to V&A, the princes, who were sons of the Sultan, wore lavished kaftans like the Sultan and their courtiers despite their young ages at that time. In Ottoman Empire, men put on tunic style shirts that were ankle length. The shirts had long, straight sleeves and three to four small buttons, while women’s shirts had v-neckline and a slit that almost reached the bust and the buttons. They were made of sheer fabrics such as cotton and usually white colour. As for their trousers, there were hardly any differences between them.
Women wore them underneath the kaftan. Usually, both kaftans made of light-weight fabrics such as silks, satins, velvets and cotton. Their silhouette was simple that means straight, ankle or knee length. Their sleeves were elbow length. Mostly, their costume that is including the kaftans didn’t have distinctive features between rich people and poor people. Therefore, the kaftans were worn by everyone regardless of gender, ages, religions, classes.
However, according to an article, “The Sultan and his court would frequently wear three caftans: one with wrist length sleeves under another with short sleeves, under another with decorative ankle length sleeves, so their contrasting fabrics could all be seen and admired (Harris. S. M. No date)”.
There was a little different to tell high-class people and others apart. It was textile that was printed on the kaftans. In the 16th century, it was a flourished era of Ottoman Empire in Turkey. Especially, the Sultan Murat III had highly interested in art.
During that time, the kaftan’s textile remarkably developed. It often used geometric motifs. The motifs were inspired by the organic object, for instance, the sun, stars, fish, flowers and water then they developed from those objects to geometric shape by using such as circles, squares, triangles and hexagonal.
It sometimes based on the Quran. They indeed liked using Islamic symbol as a pattern on the kaftans, architects and ceramics. There were two symbols that we could see frequently.
The one was Rub el Hizb, and the other was roundness motif which doesn’t have a name. The kaftan that I chose from V&A has been used Rub el Hizb. Its feature is that “The Rub el Hizb is formed by two overlapping squares with one square titled over the other to make an eight-vertex, star-shaped geometrical figure. The symbol often has a small circle in the middle (Ancient-Symbols.com. No date).” They still used in Arabic calligraphy that is the end of each paragraph; moreover, it has been used in the Quran as well.
In Arabic, “Rub” means a quarter and ‘Hizb” means a group or a party. Apparently, “Rub el Hizb” might be “divided into quarters” in English (Ancient Symbol.com. No date).
Roundness motif doesn’t seem to have certain meaning though it could be a representation of the sun apparently. Furthermore, water, fish and ship were popular motifs in the Ottoman era. Especially, Water was often used as a motif because they thought the water was a mystery of life, having a power of creation.
The fish also famous symbol in Turkey. “Occasionally a fish is interpreted as the emblem of the soul, a spiritual searcher or as the preserver of life (Ham. M. 2013. Symbol, Pattern & Symmetry. P.189 18-20).
” They had valued the birth and spiritual things. Also, they used bird motif as good luck or an interpreter of God. On the other hand, flying birds means happiness.
As flower motifs, it stood for feminism symbol. They used the carnation, the tulip, the rose, the hyacinth and so on as an inspiration. In conclusion, the Sultans, their princes wore exclusive kaftans that were brocaded Islamic motifs.
As you can see from the kaftans, they respected the Quran and nature.