Ottomans Displaying Safavid Gifts

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Institutional Affiliation : 
University of Minnesota and National Gallery of Art
Academic Bio: 
I am a PhD candidate at the Department of Art History, University of Minnesota, and the 2008-2010 Andrew W. Mellon fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art. I am currently conducting research for my dissertation titled "Gifts in Motion: Ottoman-Safavid Gift Exchange, 1501-1639." I hold an MA degree in art history from the University of Minnesota, and an MA degree in history from Sabanci University in Istanbul.

Issues relating to religious, political and military rivalry have dominated the modern-day understanding of relations between the Ottomans and the Safavids. Diplomatic correspondence and direct military confrontation were deemed the primary media through which these states communicated. This paper aims to reevaluate this relationship from the perspective of material culture, taking the constant movement of objects between these courts as a significant mediator in this dialogue. In particular, it focuses on the excessive amount of gifts sent by the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasb I to the Ottoman court in 1568 and in 1576, to congratulate the accession of two Ottoman sultans, Selim II and Murad III respectively. Through a contextual analysis of several miniature paintings preserved in contemporary Ottoman shahnames that record the presentation of these gifts, this paper will raise several questions about the agency of objects in defining the parameters of Ottoman-Safavid relations. What was the shah’s motivation in sending these particular objects? How did the Ottomans receive the shah’s demands, and how did they receive the gifts? In turn, what role did Safavid gifts play in the Ottomans’ projection of their own self-image at their court, and that of a close enemy ? By combining a visual analysis of these paintings with their accompanying text in the illuminated manuscripts, as well as the official diplomatic letters that were sent along with the gifts, and other Ottoman, Safavid, and foreign accounts of their presentation, this paper will argue that gift exchange was the primary means by which the Safavids asserted their own distinct cultural and political identity in the face of an ongoing dynastic rivalry with the Ottoman empire.


Academic Discipline : 
Art history
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