Textile with a figural design, Iran (Safavid)
late 16th-early 17th century, silk velvet and metal thread, 156 x 73.8 cm (61 7/16 x 29 1/16)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London,, Purchased with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund, Mr. I. Schwaiger, Selfridge & Co. Ltd., Mr. A. F. Kendrick, Mr. O. S. Bergeryan, G. P. & J. Baker Ltd., and Mr. A. Bernadout

~Courts and Courtiers: Art and Power

Rival courts produced rival styles, as demonstrated by the contrasting art of the Ottomans and Safavids in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. After their conquest of Egypt and Syria in 1517, the Ottoman Turks constructed a great empire in the western half of the Middle East, while the lands to the east, principally Iran, were united under the rule of the Safavid dynasty. As a result, most of the Middle East was divided between two great powers, each striving to assert its supremacy.

The Ottomans and Safavids shared many cultural values, and their artistic styles drew upon many of the same sources. Nevertheless, their mutual antagonism ensured that their art would develop in different ways, as reflected in their contrasting attitudes toward the use of images in the decorative arts.

Both the Ottomans and the Safavids commissioned illustrated manuscripts, but only in Safavid Iran did the figural themes explored in these manuscripts furnish designs for works in other media. A tile panel that once adorned a Safavid palace in Isfahan depicts courtly young men and women enjoying a picnic, while a repeating pattern of similarly elegant youths is woven into a silk velvet.

Copyright © National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.