This piece of garment was purchased by Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli as a set of ensembles from an independent dealer in London in 2021 to add to and enhance The Zay Initiative Collection.
This is a rectangular ivory towel (Yaglik) in cotton (Gauze) with embroidered embellishment and fringed (Warp) ends.
The field of the piece is plain however, repeats of large pomegranate motifs embroidered with ivory, blue, and brown silk Floss threads with metal wire – silver – highlights embellish the edges as borders.
The design is double-sided, so the Yaglik features no top or underside. The fabric itself is a (Selvedge) to Selvedge weave but the Warp ends are hemmed with ivory and touches of blue and brown silk Floss beyond which the remaining cotton threads are braided and corded in a series of fringes.
During the late Ottoman period, especially from c. 18th century, such elaborately done Yaglik would often be used as a waist band (Kusak) too, over a pair of loose trousers (Shalvar) and undershirt (Gömlek) and a waist-length jacket (Cepken).
The symbolism of pomegranate too is an interesting aspect. The cultural significance of the fruit around the world is undeniable. However, in the Middle, Near East, and the Mediterranean, the significance of the pomegranate is steeped in tradition and faith and has both positive and negative connotations.
According to some scholars of the Abrahamic faith the expulsion of Adam and Eve may have been because of a pomegranate and not an apple just like the fall of Persephone that led her to Hades in Greek and Roman myths. Having said that, the pomegranate is also the promised fruit of Paradise both in Christianity and Islam, thus becoming both the promised as well as the forbidden fruit.
The red arils of the pomegranate have been used as a symbol to represent blood over centuries in many cultures, which led the ancient Persians to use it on their shields as signs of protection and later came to symbolise the blood of Christ and his suffering – Passion of Christ – by the Christians. A fairly drought-resistant in nature, this fruit-bearing plant can also be categorized as the Biblical ‘Tree of Life’.
However, its symbolic significance in the Near and the Middle East stretches far beyond the advent of monotheism. Just like in the Greek and Roman myths, the pomegranate has played an important role in the myths and legends of the pre-monotheistic faiths in the region, the significance of which has been later adopted by the Judeo-Christian faiths and beliefs. Even today it is a common symbol of fertility during wedding rituals amongst many cultures across the world especially in the Middle and Near East.
In Turkish parlance, the term Yaglik originally denoted a rectangular piece of cotton or linen, available in various sizes, used primarily as a napkin. Often, both ends of the Yaglik were embellished with embroidery.
Over time, the term expanded in meaning to encompass embroidered textiles used for decorative purposes within the household or during special occasions.
Young brides frequently included Yaglik that was endearingly crafted by themselves and other members of their family in their trousseau as cherished possessions.
However, sashes with embroidery perhaps were not as important prior to the 18th century as embroidery in Ottoman Turkey until then, primarily emulated the luxurious woven silks and velvets found in courtly textiles.
Ottoman embroidery began to be recognised as an independent art form only after the first quarter of the 18th century when it deviated from the replication of woven designs and embraced a more creative approach. This shift allowed for the inclusion of new and naturalistic floral motifs that flowed more freely across the design field.
Simultaneously, an examination of historical artworks from Iran reveals a progressive evolution in the style of waist girdles which eventually evolved into an Ottoman Kusak. During the early 16th century, it was customary for individuals in Iran to wear a leather strap adorned with metal plaques. Subsequently, this design gave way to a narrower textile band fastened with gold clasps.
Thomas Herbert, a member of an English embassy to Iran in the late 1620s, made noteworthy observations regarding the length of these sashes and the significant variations in their materials. According to him individuals of different social statuses distinguished themselves through the quality of their band and the accompanying plain, but opulent fabric towels used underneath them.
These fabrics were often made of silk and gold for nobilities, while the merchants wore them woven with silver, and lower-ranking individuals wore them in silk and wool.
Similar sashes were also prevalent in the realms, adjacent to the Safavid cultural sphere – Ottoman and Mughal. By the late 17th century, this fashion trend had not just been widely accepted in the Ottoman Empire but transcended beyond it. It had reached parts of eastern Europe, such as Poland and Russia.
Thus, the courtiers in these regions embraced the use of textiles and fashion trends imported from Ottoman Turkey as status symbols. While the style of dress amongst the aristocracy in this region as well as the Ottoman empire gradually started drawing inspiration from the West, the popularity of the sash endured as an indelible mark of Ottoman influence either as an elaborate buckled Kusak or as a daintily embroidered Yaglik.
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