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Embroidered gardens in the special exhibition of the Pergamon Museum


Appropriate to the beginning of spring, we have a particularly flowery exhibition recommendation: the small, fine special exhibition "Embroidered Gardens". On display is a unique collection of embroidered, Ottoman textiles from the 16th-19th centuries. 25 objects are from the Borgs Collection in Düsseldorf and include typical floral motifs such as tulips and carnations, which were in fashion at the court of Istanbul in the 2nd half of the 16th century.

The Borgs collection in Düsseldorf comprises about 200 pieces, which can currently be admired for the first time in a small selection of 25 embroideries in the Pergamon Museum. In 1954 the couple Borgs traveled to Turkey for the first time and discovered the variety and beauty of these handicrafts. In the following years, in which the couple traveled there again and again, this wonderful collection of 200 pieces was created. Unfortunately there is no permanent exhibition where these embroideries can be seen, so you should not miss this opportunity.

Part of the collection of the Pergamon Museum are the bright ornaments and flowers on the ceramics from Iznik, the manufacturing center of the finest ceramics in the heyday of the Ottoman Empire, the vases and plates were made for an upscale class of buyers and the trade reached as far as Italy, where these luxury goods were distributed. © Kischreport
Artful painting on tiles decorated the walls of palaces and mosques. At first, the pieces were still painted in a single color of blue, as they were based on Chinese porcelain, but later the typical bright colors of turquoise, green, violet and finally, in the middle of the 16th century, the bright shade of red were added. Only then it became possible to produce the popular garden flowers in the colors that are still typical today. © Kischreport

The motifs of the embroideries followed the fashion taste of the time and were borrowed from the interiors of the palaces, which were decorated all over with tiles. Many of them showed floral motifs. They were soon found in the homes of the wealthy from Istanbul to Aleppo, too – depicting flowers and fruits (most of them had as well a symbolic meaning). Wall tiles, carpets and embroidery resembled those found in the Topkapi Palace, the seat of the sultans in Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The classical motifs were used until the 18th century. It is assumed that the motifs already existed printed on textiles, so that they could be embroidered at home according to the preliminary drawing.

Napkin, embroidered with pomegranate and hyacinth motifs, Turkey, 2nd half 18th century, © Claus Uhlendorf

Evliya Çelebi, a 17th century traveler, wrote in his travelogue of 20 embroidery stores that existed in Istanbul at that time, as well as local workshops where 65 men executed the finest embroidery work. The works were of such high quality that they could be attributed to these workshops on the basis of these exceptionally finely worked patterns and neat workmanship, as well as the rich decorations. They executed their works according to the designs of NAKKAŞHANE, the design studio of Topkapi Palace. Motifs and techniques of embroidery were passed down for centuries, and some of them were artfully embellished with silver and gold threads (the so-called silver and gold lantern). The exhibition shows both the works and details and their handwork techniques that were necessary to produce them.

Illustration by the 18th century painter Abdülcelil Levni of typical upper class women's clothing, consisting of wide trousers with a sash knotted at the front and a long transparent undergarment through which one could see the elaborate embroidery of the sash. Over it was worn a jacket, with a belt of gold, set with precious stones © Kischreport
Sash with broad artistic embroidery, © Kischreport
Part of the trousseau: towel with rich embroidery of silk, silver threads and gold lantern, Turkey, 18th/19th century, © Claus Uhlendorf
Detail with rich embroidery of silk, silver threads and gold lantern, Turkey, 18th/19th century, © Claus Uhlendorf
Embroidery with rose , © Kischreport
The carnation is a symbol of spring and thus of new beginnings © Kischreport

The flowers of the embroideries in the Ottoman court style had not only a decorative but also a symbolic meaning.

For example, the tulip was not only a favorite flower of the Ottomans but also symbolized the “one God of Islamic mysticism”. Since each tulip bulb produces only one tulip, this characteristic of the tulip was equated with the uniqueness of the deity.

Not only the special exhibition “Blooming Gardens” but also the permanent exhibitions with the world-famous processional route leading to the Ishtar Gate of Babylon or the stunningly detailed Aleppo Room, the carpet collection or the many ceramics, gold and silver masterpieces of the craftsmen in collection of the Museum of Islamic Art are definitely worth a visit, for which you should plan enough time!

Photos above and right: Ishtar Gate with Processional Way of Babylon, © Kischreport
© Kischreport
Aleppo Room, © Kischreport
Exhibition hall of the carpet exhibition, © Kischreport
Market Gate of Miletus, © Kischreport


Museum of Islamic Art in the Pergamon Museum, Bodestraße 1-3, 10178 Berlin


Cover: Towel embroidered with depictions of houses and gardens, Turkey, late 18th century, © Claus Uhlendorf