6082

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Rare Ottoman Engraved Stamp for Talismanic Printing, possibly of the Bektashi Order

Ottoman Balkans or Turkey
circa 18th century

diameter: 16cm, weight: 465g

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Provenance

private collection, London, UK.

This round stamp with twelve points is made of engraved bronze. It is from the Ottoman world (possibly the Balkans or perhaps Ottoman Turkey itself.) It dates to around the 18th century.

Such stamps are rare. Almost none have been published.

The face of the stamp is engraved with talismanic symbols, Koranic-related verses and prayers in the mirror image.

A round metal flange by which to hold the stamp and impress it, is soldered to the back.

It is likely that such stamps were used to print pieces of paper with motifs and Koranic-related verses that will provide the possessors with talismanic protection. Paper so imprinted could be rolled up and kept inside a pendant silver container of similar (known in Arabic as a hirz). Also, it is possible that such stamps were used to imprint textile maybe for use in flags and banners or even talismanic shirts that might have been worn beneath armour, again as a protective device for the wearer.

The form of this example with its twelve points is suggestive of it being associated with the Bektashi Order, a Sunni Sufi order headquartered in Tirana, Albania. Its followers are to be found in the Balkans and central Turkey. The twelve pointed circle is one of the Order’s motifs, and dervishes of the order wear stone pendants that are round but with twelve points. (See the image below which shows this.)

The stamp here combines verses of the Koran with prayers. One prayer, for example, includes the invocation ‘make his heart soft, as you have made steel soft for Daud (David)’.

According to Koranic belief, God gave David the power to make steel pliant, and he was able to use this ability to make armour that people could wear and move around in easily.  Dawud was Allah’s Prophet and was said to have been born circumcised. He was one of the four messengers whom Allah had selected for ‘fighting with sword’ (jihad).
There are many references to the heart in this one, and it is definitely talismanic as is has some repeated phrases which are typical of spells, for example ‘the wheel, the wheel, the wheel, the oasis, the oasis, the oasis, the hours, the hours’ and then there is a verse from the Koran about the dwellers in the cave. In both the Christian and Islamic traditions, the Seven Sleepers or ‘People of the Cave’) were a group of youths who hid inside a cave outside the city of Ephesus around 250 AD to escape religious persecution ordered by the Roman emperor Decius. They emerged some 300 years later. (The story appears in both the Old Testament and the Koran.)
The stamp is in excellent condition. The final image shows a photographic negative of the face of the stamp so that the script can be read correctly. This is how an imprint of the stamp will look.

References

Leonie, F. (ed.)., Power and Protection: Islamic Art and the Supernatural, Ashmolean Museum, 2016.

Maddison, F. & E. Savage-Smith, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art: Science, Tools & Magic, Part One: Body and Spirit, Mapping the Universe, The Nour Foundation, 1997.

Pers. comm., Seif El Rashidi, London, July 2019.

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