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Pearls on a String: The Patron

Sultan Mahmud I (ruled 1730–1754) was celebrated in his day as a sponsor of the arts and as a ruler who brought peace to the Ottoman Empire. 
Mahmud collaborated with artisans and merchants to define a cosmopolitan court in the empire’s capital of Istanbul, in present-day Turkey, poised at the crossroads of Asia and Europe.

A stout, hunchbacked man who spent his early life under house arrest, Mahmud had challenges to overcome upon gaining the throne. As a boy, Mahmud witnessed his father’s humiliating removal from office by his uncle Ahmed III (ruled 1703–1730). In 1730, a revolt broke out, and Mahmud was made ruler of a vast and unstable empire. Those who elevated him to the throne thought they could control him; Mahmud proved them wrong. He calmed public unrest and initiated military reforms.

Mahmud used art and architectural patronage to stress his impressive royal lineage and to communicate his vision of a technologically advanced empire engaged with Europe. Those who knew Mahmud observed his personal involvement in artistic commissions and his taste for cleverly engineered objects made with rare materials. One such commission was a remarkable jeweled gun, on view in Pearls. This curious assemblage of jeweled objects includes a dagger, pen case with writing instruments and other accessories. In addition to referencing the noble pursuits of hunting and calligraphy, the gun also calls attention to Mahmud’s fascination with the precious and the innovative.