Divan by Sultan Ahmad Jalayir
Attributed to Mir Ali Tabrizi (act. ca. 1370-1410)
Iran, Tabriz, or Iraq, Baghdad, Jalayirid period, ca. 1400
Ink, color, and gold on paper
Freer Gallery of Art F1932.29 folios 181v-182r
In the Islamic world calligraphy is revered. Since the belief in Islam is that the Qu’ran is the literal word of God as told to the prophet Muhammad, writing holds a special place in their religion and culture. One particularly unique style is called Nasta’liq and is featured in a new exhibit at the Sackler Gallery called Nasta’liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy. The exhibit primarily focuses on the four most famed calligraphers of that style: Mir Ali Tabrizi, the inventor of the style, Sultan Ali Mashhadi, who brought the script to its classical form, Mir Ali Haravi, who used it on large scale qit’as (fragments of poetry), and Mir Imad Hasani, the most celebrated.
Signed by Mir Imad Hasani
Iran, probably Isfahan, Safavid period, dated 1611-12 (1020 AH)
Borders signed by Muhammad Hadi, Iran, 1755-56
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Freer Gallery of Art F1942.15b
There were no textbooks or guidelines for this form of calligraphy. Instead, the student (shagrid) would learn from a master (ustad) until they could almost replicate their form. Nasta’liq was most common used for writing poetry. Mir Ali Tabrizi, the inventor of the style, said that he was told in a dream to create a style that looked like flying geese. The poetry then was mounted diagonally for artistic effect. Even the artist’s tools, some of which are on display, had variances. In the 15th century deviations in the style arose when masters trimmed their reed pens in unconventional ways. Not only were the artists responsible for making their own reed pens, they also each created their own ink from secret recipes furthering adding to the sometimes subtle and other times obvious differences in their work. This form of calligraphy, while it began in Iran, reached as far as India and greatly influenced Turkish styles.
Signed by Mir Ali Haravi
Probably Uzebekistan, Bukhara, Shaybanid period, ca. 1540
Borders: India, Mughal period, ca. 1590-1600
Freer Gallery of Art F1956.12
Though the calligrapher’s primary intent was to convey the artistry in the words themselves, everything about the pieces on display was artful; from the illuminated design elements woven throughout a piece to the distinctive calligraphic forms that shape each written word. They are beautiful and intricate in their own right. An entire exhibit could be created based on the art that adorns the books and pages containing this beautiful calligraphy. It is definitely worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of calligraphy. For a demonstration of the Nasta’liq style click here.