East Iran or Transoxiana, 10th century
Bowl with foliated calligraphy Bowl with foliated calligraphy
Earth ware with white slip covering and decoration in black slip under a transparent glaze
Diam 10 3/4 in
Geneva, collection Jean-Paul Croisier
Geneva (1984), n° 2; Falk (1985), 208, p. 216.
Certain potters of Nishapur and Samarkand seem to have regarded the task of decorating their work with Arabic proverbs as irresistible challenge; namely, to render the inscriptions in as complex a form as they could. Was this to amuse themselves or was it at the request of prospective customers? We might ever know. The letters were plaited, knotted, turned into plant forms (foliated). These convolutions render the inscription almost illegible in some cases.

This one can be read only partly: ". . . the People of Paradise".  The inscription was written with a brush or wooden pen and then after the bowl was fired, the plaiting was done by scratching through the black glaze to the white beneath.



Iran, Circa 1860 AD
Calligraphy on a decorated background Calligraphy on a decorated background
Ink and gouache on paper stuck on cardboard. Traces of gold
Diam 10 3/4 in
Geneva, collection Jean-Paul Croisier
Geneva (1984), n° 2; Falk (1985), 208, p. 216.
The background of this page is so extensively decorated that the animals, plants and human figures merge into an all-embracing pattern of green and gold. The script is written in bold Nasta'liq which, like the painting, is the work of the artist whose name appears twice, Ismail al-Musawwir al-Katib Jalayir, son of the late Hajj (Muhammad) Zaman Khan.
Many examples of Ismail Jalayir work exist, though none is dated. He died apparently sometime in the 1870's. He was a student at the Dar al-Funun (Academy of Fine Arts), Tehran, where he came to the attention of Nasir ad-Din Shah (1848 - 1895) and one of his ministers, Prince Ali Quli Mirza. He studied calligraphy under Mirza Ghulam Riza, on of the leading masters of the day, and this perfectly composed piece shows the heights he reached in that art.
The verse refers to Islam's greatest final prophet Mohammed:

His perfection procured exaltation,
His beauty dispelled the darkness,
All his attributes were good ones,
Pray for him, and for his family.



Iran, second half of the 19th century
Calligraphic composition Ink, gouache and varnish on cardboard
12 1/2 x 18 1/4 in
Private collection
Falk (1985), 179, p. 192.
Arabic alphabet is entirely intrinsic. It can be appreciated for its formal and rhythmic qualities alone and needs no embellishment or decoration. But both Iranian and Ottoman tastes, particularly in the 9th century, put the Arabic alphabet through some strange contortions. Scripts were covered with representations of people, animals and even tiny scenes.

This script is called Gulzar, meaning "full of flowers." A good example can be seen here. It is part of a verse by the Persian poet Hafiz and says:

"We came this way searching for glory and power."

The script is decorated with animals, people and landscape in a griasille technique on a plain background. In his original verse, however, Hafiz wrote the opposite:
"We did not come..."

The origins of Gulzar script are perhaps to be found in a technique known from the 16th century at least, whereby phrase such as the basmalah was filled with minutely written Qur'anic verses. Gulzar in the form shown here seems to have been practiced since the 17th century. There is a piece in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (Ms 11A:3) bearing the name of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.

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