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J Michael Rogers Memorial Lecture, Sovereignty materialized: Sartorial presence and perpetuity in Ottoman kingship, Ünver Rüstem

Khalili Lecture Theatre (KLT), SOAS, LG/F Phillips Building

J Michael Rogers Memorial Lecture

Sovereignty materialized: Sartorial presence and perpetuity in Ottoman kingship

Dr. Ünver Rüstem, Second Decade Society Associate Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at Johns Hopkins University.

Wednesday, 10 January 2024, at 19:00

Khalili Lecture Theatre (KLT), SOAS, LG/F Phillips Building

This is a hybrid event; to join online, contact rw51@soas.ac.uk.

The Lecture

This lecture will explore the sartorial dimensions of Ottoman embodied kingship, and especially how costume served to perpetuate the sultan's aura post-mortem.

In death as much as in life, members of the House of Osman, and the sultans in particular, enjoyed rare privileges that marked the distinguished status of their persons. It is well known that the bodies of sultans who died outside the Ottoman capital were transported back there for interment, directly contravening the Islamic principle of swift local burial.

Such special treatment was afforded also to the sultans' garments, which, as the material and visual manifestation of the sovereign's body, became almost literal extensions of it, carefully preserved in the palace treasury.

A conspicuous emblem of Muslim identity and rule, the turban took on a correspondingly prominent role in the sultan's memorialization, not only through its display during the funeral procession, but also—and more abidingly—through its placement at the head of his cenotaph for the benefit of visitors to his tomb.

So strong was this symbolic charge that it endured even after the turban itself decayed to the point of needing to be replaced, each new iteration taking on the bodily associations of the original. These posthumous customs will be considered in relation to the various ceremonial and iconographic practices that preceded them during the sultan's reign, as when he would appear already turbaned alongside additional royal headdresses that redoubled his kingly image.

While focusing on the figure of the sovereign, the lecture will also address related traditions in the non-royal sphere, in particular the marking of Ottoman men's graves with tombstones sculpted to imitate the headgear they had worn in life.

The superficial resemblance between these fictive turbans—carved of lifeless stone—and the actual turbans surmounting the sultans' cenotaphs only emphasized the distinctness of the latter, which, by materially invoking the sovereign's own body, kept alive its auspicious presence.

Speaker's biography

Ünver Rüstem is the Second Decade Society Associate Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at Johns Hopkins University. His research centres on the Ottoman Empire in its later centuries and on questions of cross-cultural exchange and interaction. He received his PhD from Harvard University and has held fellowships at Columbia University, the University of Cambridge, and Harvard University. He is the author of Ottoman Baroque: The Architectural Refashioning of Eighteenth-Century Istanbul (Princeton University Press, 2019) and has published articles and chapters on subjects as diverse as the reception of illustrated Islamic manuscripts, the ceremonial framing of Ottoman mosque architecture, and the distinctive funerary art of Ottoman Cyprus. At present, he is working on a new book project that explores the role of costume in Ottoman interactions with Western Europe during the early modern and modern periods.