Late Calligraphic Development

The Abbasid dynasty, the last of the Islamic caliphates, ended in 1258 when Baghdad was sacked by Chengiz Khan, his son Hulagu, and their Mongol armies. That was a major turning point in the history of Islamic culture, especially in the fields of arts and architecture. Abaqa (1265-1282), the son of Hulagu, established the Ilkhanid dynasty in Persia. It should come as no surprise that no sooner had Hulagu's great-grandson Ghazan (1295-1305) embraced Islam than he made it the state religion throughout his entire domain.

Ghazan, taking the Muslim name of Mahmud, dedicated himself to the revival of Islamic culture, arts, and traditions. The impact of Ghazan's reforms continued through the reigns of his two successors, his brother Uljaytu (1304-1316) and his nephew Abu Sa'id (1317-1335). During this era, the arts of the book and calligraphy were at their zenith. Abdullah Ibn Muhammad al-Hamadani was commissioned by Uljaytu to copy and illuminate the Holy Qur'an in Rayhani script. Ahmad al-Suhrawardi, another master calligrapher and a student of Yaqut al-Musta'simi al-Suhrawardi, copied the Holy Qur'an in Muhaqqaq script. Many master calligraphers contributed significantly to the production of fine copies of the Qur'an in Rayhani and Thuluth scripts; these calligraphers included Abdullah al-Sayrafi, Yehya-l-Jamali al-Sufi, and Muhammad Ibn Yousuf al-Abari.

By the end of the 14th century, the Timurid dynasty had succeeded the Ilkhanids in Persia. The arts and architecture under the Timurids and their contemporaries set a standard of excellence and elegance for generations in Iran, Turkey, and India. During this era, special attention was given to the arts of the book -- elaborate arts involving transcription, illumination, illustration, and binding.

Safadi (1979) notes in Islamic Calligraphy that the Timurid style aimed to create a balance between beauty and grandeur by combining clearly written scripts in large Qur'ans and extremely fine, intricate, softly-colored illumination of floral patterns integrated with ornamental eastern Kufic script so fine as to be almost invisible. The calligraphers of this era were the first to use various styles with different sizes of scripts on the same page when copying the Holy Qur'an. Under Timurid patronage, the most impressive and largest copies ever of the Holy Qur'an were produced.

The Mamluks founded their dynasty (1260-1389) mainly in Egypt and Syria. During the Mamluk era, architecture was the pre-eminent art, and the Mamluks' patronage defined many Islamic arts. Objects like lamps, glass, brass candlesticks, paper Qur'an manuscripts, and wooden minbars were well designed, calligraphed, and decorated. The two great periods of Mamluk art coincided with the reigns of Qalawun and his son al-Naser Mohammed (1294-1340) and al-Ashraf Qa'itbay (1468-1496). The artistic works of the Mamluks are regarded as extraordinary masterpieces.

There were many master Mamluk calligraphers whose works exhibit superb artistic skills including Muhammad Ibn al-Wahid, Muhammad Ibn Sulayman al-Muhsini, Ahmad Ibn Muhammad al-Ansari, and Ibrahim Ibn Muhammad al-Khabbaz. Abd al-Rahman al-Sayigh is very well-known for copying the largest-size Qur'an in Muhaqqa script.

The Safavid dynasty (1502-1736) in Iran also produced alluring and attractive masterpieces of Islamic art. During the reigns of Shah Isma'il and his successor Shah Tahmasp (1524-1576), the Ta'liq script was formulated and developed into a widely used native script which led to the invention of a lighter and more elegant version called Nasta'liq. These two relatively young scripts soon were elevated to the status of major scripts. Although Nasta'liq was a beautiful and appealing script, Turkish calligraphers continued to use Ta'liq as a monumental script for important occasions.

The word Nasta'liq is a compound word derived from Naskh and Ta'liq. The Persian calligrapher Mir Ali Sultan al-Tabrizi invented this script and devised the rules to govern it. Ta'liq and Nasta'liq scripts were used extensively for copying Persian anthologies, epics, miniatures, and other literary works -- but not for the Holy Qur'an. There is only one copy of the Holy Qur'an written in Nasta'liq. It was done by a Persian master calligrapher, Shah Muhammad al-Nishaburi, in 1539. The reign of Shah Abbas (1588-1629) was the golden era for this script and for many master calligraphers, including Kamal ad-Din Hirati, Ghiyath ad-Din al-Isfahani, and Imad ad-Din al-Husayni who was the last and greatest of this generation.

The Mughals lived and reigned in India from 1526 to 1858. This dynasty was the greatest, richest, and longest-lasting Muslim dynasty to rule India. The dynasty produced some of the finest and most elegant arts and architecture in the history of Muslim dynasties. A minor script appeared in India called Behari but was not very popular. Nasta'liq, Naskh, and Thuluth were adopted by the Muslim calligraphers during this era. The intense development of calligraphy in India led to the creation of new versions of Naskh and Thuluth. These Mughal scripts are thicker and bolder, the letters are widely spaced, and the curves are more rounded.

During the Mughal reign of Shah Jahan (1628-1658), calligraphy reached new heights of excellence, especially when the Taj Mahal was built. One name remains closely associated with the Taj Mahal, -- in particular with the superb calligraphic inscriptions displayed in the geometric friezes on the white marble -- that is the name of the ingenious calligrapher Amanat Khan, whose real name was Abd ul-Haq.

This incomparable calligrapher came to India from Shiraz, Iran, in 1609. According to Okada and Joshi in Taj Mahal (1993) , Shah Jahan conferred the title of Amanat Khan upon this Iranian as a reward for the calligrapher's dazzling virtuosity. In all probability, Amanat Khan was entrusted with the entire calligraphic decoration of the Taj Mahal. During Jahangir's reign, Amanat Kahn had been responsible for the calligraphic work of the Akbar mausoleum at Sikandra and for that of the Madrasah Shahi Mosque at Agra.

It is quite possible that Amanat Khan was responsible for the choice of the epigraphs of the Taj Mahal -- that is, the Qur'anic verses and other religious quotations appearing on the mausoleum. He signed his work inside the calligraphic inscription on the left side of the southern iwan -- Amant Khan al-Shirazi, followed by the date (1638-39). The calligrapher's signature bears witness to his status and renown at the court, since many of his peers remained anonymous.

Muslims in China who used the Arabic scripts for liturgical purposes adopted the calligraphic styles of Afghanistan with slight modifications. Muslim Chinese calligraphers invented a unique script called Sini (Chinese). The features of this script are extremely rounded letters and very fine lines. Another style was derived from Sini for ornamental purposes and was used on ceramics and chinaware. This ornamental style is characterized by thick, triangular verticals and thin horizontals.

The Osmanli or Ottoman dynasty reigned in Anatolia from 1444 until 1923. Under Ottoman patronage, a new and glorious chapter of Islamic arts and architecture was opened, especially the arts of the book and Arabic calligraphy. The Ottomans not only adopted the most popular calligraphic scripts of the time, but also invented a few new and purely indigenous styles such as Tughra. Arabic calligraphy was highly esteemed and incorporated into such artistic objects as mosques, madrassahs, palaces, miniatures, and other literary works. The most accomplished Ottoman calligrapher of all time was Shaykh Hamdullah al-Amsani who taught calligraphy to the Sultan Bayazid II (1481-1520). Uthman Ibn Ali, better known as Hafiz Uthman (1698), was another figure in a line of famous calligraphers.

The most celebrated derivative scripts, from the Persian scripts Ta'liq and Nasta'liq, were Shikasteh, Deewani, and Jali. The Shikasteh style is characterized by extreme density resulting from tightly connected ligatures, very low and inclined verticals, and no marks.

Ibrahim Munif was a master calligrapher who is credited with the invention of Deewani script which was later refined by the Shaykh Hamdullah. Deewani is excessively cursive and structured. Its letters are undotted and joined together unconventionally. Jali script is attributed to Hafiz Uthman and his students. The major features of Jali are its profuse embellishments, making the script perfect for ornamental purposes.

Arabic calligraphy acquired a sublime reputation for being the divine, moral, and artistic representation of Islamic faith and arts. The contributions of calligraphers and their legacies still remain today. The rules governing the use of scripts, the writing techniques, and the entire calligraphic culture the scripts generated are a valued part of the heritage of the Islamic world.

  Origins of calligraphy
  Reform of Arabic writing
  Noble calligraphers
  Early development
  Late development
  Writing instruments
  Alif as unit of proportion
  Unique calligraphic works
  Major calligraphic styles
  Calligraphic collection


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