Between the sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries, the Shiite Safavids of Iran and the Sunni Ottomans of Turkey--two of the greatest Islamic empires in history--developed a complex relationship in which tenuous peace alternated with bloody conflict, often with dizzying speed. This dissertation is the first systematic study of this relationship from the perspective of visual culture, and focuses specifically on the objects exchanged, through gifting, by the royal courts of these two empires. These objects--ranging from lavishly illustrated books and exquisite silk carpets to richly embroidered tents, chandeliers and even live birds of prey-- enriched the visual culture of each court, and led to the formulation of two distinctive artistic canons with a lasting legacy in the artistic traditions of each empire. This study aims to deepen our understanding of this cultural exchange and the role it played in the relations between these two rival empires. It argues that the movement of luxurious objects functioned as a primary mechanism for the expression of competitive interaction between the two courts.
This thesis focuses primarily on gifts received by Ottoman sultans from Safavid shahs from the early sixteenth century to the early seventeenth century. Specifically, the exchange of gifts between the two courts is explored at certain key moments in the development of their relationship, each of which forms a separate chapter in the dissertation. Through an examination of the elaborate ceremonies that typically accompanied the exchange of objects at these moments, I investigate the ritual use of material culture to project both political power and cultural influence in the early modern world.
The four chapters are organized in rough chronological order, with each one focusing on a specific exchange or a set of ceremonial exchanges that provide visual and material clues about how objects functioned in the early modern Muslim world. Each case study takes as its unit of analysis a group of routinely exchanged objects on the one hand, and one-of-a-kind objects on the other. I examine both the actual gifts exchanged, as well as manuscript paintings depicting and describing their ritual presentation and reception. The textual evidence ranges from treasury records and court chronicles to epistolary sources and first-hand ambassadorial accounts in Ottoman Turkish, Persian and Italian. The purpose of each chapter is thus to understand the potential and actual movement of objects in illuminating the convoluted relationship between two rival empires.