Ottoman Turkish manuscript on polished paper, of typical scroll form, the opening with the tughra of Sultan Mehmed IV elaborately embellished with a triangular motif of interlacing flowers in colours and gold on polychrome grounds, the document interspersed with lines of text in gold, the main section written in black ink
This magnificently decorated firman bearing the tughra of Mehmet IV is a document of significant historical and artistic importance. The word 'firman', or ferman in Turkish, comes from the Persian farman, meaning 'command' or 'authority', and regarding the Ottoman Empire, it refers to an edict made by the sultan, frequently featuring his tughra in the heading. Though exceptionally issued by the sultan himself, firmans were often decreed by his highest officials, usually following a discussion of the matter in question at the diwan-i humayun or 'imperial council' (The Encyclopaedia of Islam, B. Lewis, Ch. Pellat and J. Schacht (eds.), vol. II, Leiden, 1983, pp.803-4) The subject of these documents vary widely, dealing with administrative, military, financial and diplomatic affairs, amongst others. A number of firmans also mandated general regulations that applied to the population as a whole and were later integrated into the Ottoman kanunnames, or codes of secular law (ibid., p.805).
The present decree opens with an invocatio written in gold, which is immediately followed by a praise of the Ottoman Empire and Mehmet IV's genealogy, presented in the first person by the sultan himself. In order to increase their political weight, firmans sometimes carried a few words near the tughra written in the sultan's own hand (ibid.). It can be suggested that in this case, the use of the first person is intended to have a similar effect, as being addressed by the highest authority in the Ottoman Empire would bestow notable distinction upon the official or authority addressed.
The main section of the document outlines a treaty between the Netherlands and the Ottoman Empire, and is a unique insight into the diplomatic and commercial relations between both nations. Dated 1091 AH/1680 AD, this firman comes at the crucial time of peace between the Ottomans and Western Europe that followed the Treaty of Zurawno (1676 AD) and the end of the second phase of the Polish-Ottoman War. The text gives specific attention to the conditions of trade, especially concerning cotton and silk, and lists the responsibilities of ambassadors as supervisors of commerce, as well as the arrival and departure of mercantile ships, and the rights and duties of merchants and port authorities.
It is also imperative to note the aesthetic effect of the elaborate and heavily-ornamented tughra at the header of the firman. Arranged in the form of a stylised tree, the cipher is adorned by coloured grounds and an unusually dense pattern of scrolling floral motifs, a strong indication of the document's political significance. Though seldom as complex as the decoration in the present lot, tughras were frequently embellished with polychrome vegetal designs. A stylistically comparable tughra of Mehmed IV is found on a firman from Istanbul dated 1663, which is now in the Nasser D. Khalili Collection and was sold in these rooms 28 April 1981, lot 213 (see J.M. Rogers, Empire of the Sultans: Ottoman Art from the Collection of Nasser D. Khalili, London 1995, p.167, no.108).
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