M. Mahfuz-Ul-Haq: Some Specimens of Islamic Calligraphy. Source: Rupam, Jan-April, 1928 

The Art of Calligraphy occupies a peculiar position in Islamic In the art of the Far East – in China and Japan – writing and painting very intimately related , and very inscription in cursive hand , quoting some well known stanzas , or specially composed verses are added to a picture , being regarded as part and parcel of the pictorial composition . In the art of Islam ,the religious restriction as to the figurative arts , particularly as to the representation of living forms , appears to have stimulated the arts on decorative channels – particularly in the realm of book production , in the art of writing and illuminating books . Apart from illumination or illustration of books , considerable attention is given to the art of the writing ” itself ; calligraphy thus became an independent art itself , treated with equal  reverence and appreciation as ” painting itself.


The importance and significance of calligraphy as an independent art is clearly indicated in a passage in the Ain – i – Akbari ( Blochmann’s Edition , Calcutta , 1873 , p . 97 ) ; ‘ People may mistake a picture for a reality , yet pictures are much inferior to the written letter , inasmuch as the letter may embody the wisdom of bygone ages , and become a means the to intellectual progress , writing is more important two arts . ” Handwriting was thus practiced as a separate art , and by patient practice brought to a superfine perfection , chiefly through the generous patronage of Persian princes.


Though it is quite possible that Islamic calligraphy may have come in contact with Italian calligraphy of the fifteenth century , and possibly influenced it , actual examples of calligraphy which can be definitely claimed to be Islamic in character , do not go beyond the ninth century – the most typical examples being the numerous survivals of the leaves from Koran written in Kufic characters . The square dots in some of the early fifteenth century Italian illuminated manuscripts seem to recall much of the feeling of the pages of the Kufic Korans , without any suggestion of any direct borrowing . The origin of Islamic calligraphy , supposed to have been derived from Syriac writing , has still to be investigated and any new material which may add to our knowledge of this art , may be fruitful of new suggestions . I have therefore readily offered , at the request of the Editor , to describe and comment on some new examples light . of calligraphy which have recently come to light.


I must state at the outset that of the six specimens unfortunately only two , namely , Figs . 1 and 2 , are signed , while the remaining four do not bear any signature , nor the date of transcription , except Fig . 6 which contains the date 1074 A.H. in the text . Fig . 1. The first specimen is a beautiful panel of calligraphy , signed by Mir ‘ Alial Katib , the greatest Nasta ‘ liq calligrapher that Persia has produced .


The ornamentation is simple in style and the outer border contains naturalistic flowering plant – motifs of the seventeenth century . The text has been written in a firm , bold hand ; and the perfectly symmetrical style proves , in no uncertain manner , the mastery of the penman and the consummate skill which he has displayed in the execution of his work . Mir ‘ Ali , the transcriber of the Wasli , was a pupil of celebrated Sultan Alial – Mashhadi the ( d . Circa 921 A.H. ) , whom he excelled as a calligraphist and had , even during the lifetime of that illustrious master , many admirers who assigned him a higher place than his teacher . ‘ Ali enjoyed the patronage of Ubaidullah Khan Uzbuk ( 946 A.H. ) and Sultan Abdul Aziz of Bukhārā ( 947-957 A.H. ) , who showered royal favours on him ; but , apparently , he was not pleased with the life which he led at their courts . He always yearned for his home – Herät – the city of sweet memories and charming surroundings .

Mir Ali died ( as I have shown in my Specimens of Muslim Calligraphy in the Ghose Collection , Calcutta , 1928 , p . 7 ) , after 957 A.H. Ab’ul Fazl , the author of the celebrated Akbar Nama , pays tribute to him in the following terms : ” He brought his art to perfection by imitating the style of Sultan ” Ali of Mashhad . The new method which he established is a proof of his genius . ” the author of the Biography of Calli graphists states that Mir Ali ” gave a new 99 And 4 colour and fragrance to the garden of calli graphy , and made the brain of the world scented with the aromatic herbs of his fine penmanship . ” The text , which comprises two beautiful verses from the Diwán of the celebrated Persian poet , Hafiz , runs as follows :

Text : An kas ki bidast jäm därad , ” Aish – u – Tarab – i – mudām därad ; Nargis hama shiwahäiy masti , Az chashm – i – khush – i – tu – wam dārad.

TRANSLATION : One who holds a wine – cup in his hand , Enjoys everlasting mirth and joy ; Narcissus has , all these ways of intoxication , Drawn from thy beautiful eyes .

Fig . 2. This specimen which bears the signature of Muhammad Şalih , was trans cribed in 1105 A.H. ( 1693-94 A.D. ) , namely , towards the latter part of the reign of Aurangzib . The marginal decoration is attractive in style and the ornamentation is certainly more elaborate than in the former , but the calligraphy is of a much inferior order and shows unmistakable signs of the deterioration of the Fine Art of penmanship , which is particularly noticeable in the drawing of dawa’ir , i.e. , curves . S a y ti The text , which is a Persian quatrain of a mediocre type , runs as follows : TEXT : Har nafas dil dar shikanj – i – gham surūdi mikanad ,  Hayu Hayi girya am ahang – i – rudi miku nad Man namidänam ki dil mi súzad az gham ya jigar , h Atash uftad ast dar chahi – u – düdi miku nad .  Al – ‘ abd Muhammad Salih ( Ghafira lahu ) 1165 A. H. in My heart is ever singing in the grip of sorrow , ( And ) my constant wailing’s long for the harmony of the harp ;  I do not know whether my heart is being consumed or the liver , ( But this much I know ) that fire is burning in the well ( of my heart ) and giving out smoke .  The Wasli , which appears to have been transcribed during the eighteenth or early nineteenth century , is a very good specimen of Nasta’liq penmanship . Like the transcriber of Fig . 4 , he is gifted with a sense of proportion , and what he lacks in skill and experience , he has made up in symmetry . The decoration on the border in is identical in style with that on Figs . 1 , 2 and 4 , but I fear that it belongs to a much older date than the transcription itself .  But I do not venture to pronounce definite opinion as it is quite possible that the photographic reproduction may be quite misleading .


The text comprises three verses : the first two from the Chazal of some Persian poet whom I have been unable to identify , while the last is the opening verse ( Matlá ) of a well – known Ghazal of Hafiz , the celebrated mystic Poet of Persia . Although Fig . 4. The Wasli is an interesting specimen of Nasta’liq calligraphy , possessing an artistic simplicity of its own . the calligraphy is not of a high order , yet the penman has made up his deficiency in this respect by a natural gift of a sense of proportion . The text comprises a verse of the Koran with its interlinear translation in Persian , but it is strange that the Arabic text which should have been written in Naskh , has actually been written in Nasta’liq . Is it that the calligrapher could not write a good hand in Naskh , or that he has done so deliberately. Anyway , the Wasli places before us an interesting matter for study and investigation . Fig . 5. An indated and unsigned Wasli , which isolerably good specimen of the Nasta li calligraphy that was practiced in India during the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries . The interlinear and marginal decorations are elaborate , but they do not seem to be the work of a skilled artist .


However , I must confess that my conclusion is based on the photographic reproduction that is before me , but it is quite possible that the original Wasli may have its artistic features , which have not been reproduced in the black – and – white photograph that is before me . The text , which comprises two lines from some Persian Masnawi , is in praise of God . Fig . 6. This Wasli , which is a charming specimen of Shikasta calligraphy , was transcribed about 1074 A.H. – 1663-64 A.D. The penman , who unfortunately does not sign his name , appears to have been expert in his Art . He has imitated the style of Darwish – the great Shikasta calligrapher of Persia – very successfully and the ease and firmness with which he has written the Wasli lead me to assign its scribe , a place among the foremost calligraphers of Persia . The text is an epistle bearing the date 12th Muharram , 174 ( i.e. , 1074 A.H. ) .

One thought on “M. Mahfuz-Ul-Haq: Some Specimens of Islamic Calligraphy. Source: Rupam, Jan-April, 1928 

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