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Robes Muslims gave Christians on exhibit

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    Thursday, November 10, 2005 · Last updated 2:19 p.m. PT Robes Muslims gave Christians on exhibit By CARL HARTMAN ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER WASHINGTON -- It may
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      Thursday, November 10, 2005 · Last updated 2:19 p.m. PT

      Robes Muslims gave Christians on exhibit


      WASHINGTON -- It may be difficult to envision a Muslim leader today
      sponsoring Christian religious objects. But 500 years ago the Sultan
      of Turkey, ruler of mosque and state, shipped luxurious robes from
      his prized silk mill in Istanbul to Christian countries, robes laden
      with Christian symbols and an abbreviation for "Christ is

      A Smithsonian museum has put a sample of a robe with Christian
      symbols on show, part of an exhibit of Turkish imperial silks
      called "Style and Status." It's a short sleeved robe called a
      dalmatic in deep red velvet, worn by Christian church dignitaries.
      It is woven with repeated blue figures of Jesus as Almighty Ruler,
      interspersed with crosses, Greek lettering, roses, tulips and

      The flowers are typical ornaments favored by artists of the Turkish
      empire. The robe is borrowed from the Rhode Island School of Design
      in Providence, R.I. Others are in Roman Catholic and Orthodox
      Christian churches and monasteries in Poland, Russia and elsewhere
      in Europe.

      Though Muslim leaders had a tradition of tolerance for Christians,
      the designs on the fabric may have had little to do with Islamic
      reverence for Jesus as a Hebrew prophet. The silks were much in
      demand, an important Turkish export. Russia was a big market and the
      source of the fur used to line many of the more desirable clothes.

      "Business is business," said Ms. Massumeh Farhad, the curator of
      Islamic art at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. "It was something like
      oil is today."

      Muslim governments control some of the world's biggest supplies of
      oil and have only withheld it from non-Muslims in times of grave

      The dalmatic on display was probably woven in Istanbul, Ms. Farhad
      said, and deals may have been arranged through the representative in
      the Turkish capital of the Greek and other Orthodox churches - the
      Ecumenical Patriarch. It's a post that still exists in Istanbul more
      than half a millennium after Muslim forces took the city from
      Christian forces in 1453.

      Ms. Farhad said silk for other Christian robes was exported in bulk
      from Turkey to Christian countries, to be tailored and adorned
      there. One length of silk from the sultan's weavers, apparently
      without religious symbols, went to adorn a canopy over the throne of
      Czar Ivan the Terrible of Russia, who promoted his country as leader
      of the Orthodox church.

      Weavers in Bursa, capital of the Turkish empire before Istanbul,
      were overwhelmed by court demand for "robes of honor" given by the
      sultan on special occasions and as gifts to courtiers and foreign
      visitors. The highest quality came to be woven in Istanbul. After
      one celebration, a Prince Michael of the imperial family found
      himself in possession of 93 velvets and 236 brocaded silks.

      Robes for Muslim clerics, who considered silk sinfully luxurious,
      were made of wool.

      For their own clothes, which dominate the 68 objects in the exhibit,
      the Turkish rulers and even their smallest children wore bold
      designs and bright colors. But they did not order cloth adorned with
      human figures. Part of the reason, Ms. Farhad thinks, was the
      biblical ban on "graven images," also observed by orthodox Jews, and
      part was a desire to distinguish their dress from styles in Iran,
      where human figures were common in art.

      The exhibit will be open through Jan. 22, 2006. Admission is free.


      On the Net:

      Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art:
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