Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Calligraphy
May 12, 2008 5:21 PM   Subscribe

Selections of Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Calligraphy from the collection of The Library of Congress. 373 individual pieces from ranging in time from the 9th to the 19th Century, all explained and some translated. A few personal favorites (note that very high quality scans can be viewed by clicking the appropriate link after clicking thumbnail): marriage decree, verses on tragic love, practice sheet, verses 10-11 of the 48th chapter of the Qur'an, poetic verses offering advice, frontispiece of Qur'anic exegesis and quatrain by Rumi. There are also four special presentations: Calligraphers of the Persian Tradition, Ottoman Calligraphers and Their Works, Qur’anic Fragments and Noteworthy Items. This last presentation also features representational art, for instance images of The battle of Mazandaran and the Persian king Bahram Gur hunting.
posted by Kattullus (11 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I wish modern bureaucrats were given courses in calligraphy, it would make the world that much nicer (note: my job involves reading bureaucratic text out loud for people who are blind but I still think other people could get behind this).
posted by Kattullus at 5:37 PM on May 12, 2008

Wow, that marriage decree is stunning! Great post.
posted by BinGregory at 6:46 PM on May 12, 2008

I'd like to add that Islamic calligraphy is far from a fossil art. There are living masters producing phenomenal work up to the present day. Check out the websites of Mohammad Zakariya, an American calligrapher trained in Turkey (who I saw speak at the Detroit Institute of Arts), and Hajji Noor Deen, a master calligrapher from China. Both websites have a lot of content once you step inside. Check out their galleries: [MZ] [HND]
posted by BinGregory at 7:07 PM on May 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

BinGregory: and Mohammed Zakariya has trained many students across N. America. I'm looking at a really cool rendition of the Shahadah tracing round an octagon in my lounge that was done by a local Muslimah trained by him.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:54 PM on May 12, 2008

Yeah? Not Sana Naveed, is it? She's got some lovely work too, like this tawiz.

On a related note, there's a wood-working calligraphy tradition in my area, most famous in Jepara, Indonesia where they produce calligraphy carved from teak. A lot of it is mass-produced and unsigned, more a craft than an art, but high-quality and gorgeous nonetheless. I haven't found a good link really, but here's a catalog of some of that stuff.
posted by BinGregory at 8:38 PM on May 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

BinGregory: nailed it! She's a Naqsh like yourself (I've gone to their dhikr many times but am Shadhili).
posted by Burhanistan at 8:40 PM on May 12, 2008

Looking at these, I am finding it very, very difficult to come to grips with words being an integral part of visual art.

I don't really know why, but maybe it has to do with seeing picture art as a moment in time, whereas words must involve a progression of time from beginning to end. Chinese painting gives me the same trouble; I keep thinking 'what are these graffiti doing all over this great painting?' Perhaps it's no coincidence that some traditional Chinese painting represents distance by having nearby objects toward the bottom of the painting and larger, and distant ones smaller toward the top-- that simulates a natural progression of the focus of the eyes as you take in a scene-- while distance rendered by western perspective painting simulates a single fixation of the eyes.

For the calligraphy which slants across, I had some relief from this dissonance by imagining the backgrounds immersed in a pellucid stream and the words floating by like leaves on the surface of the stream.
posted by jamjam at 9:30 AM on May 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I find your comment very interesting, jamjam. Do you always have problems when text and picture go together? Do comics bother you? How about a painting that has text as part of the image (billboards, protest signs, newspapers)? How does concrete poetry strike your fancy?
posted by Kattullus at 10:48 AM on May 13, 2008

I love this stuff—thanks for the post! (And Naveed is great; I often don't care for modern calligraphy, but hers is ace.)
posted by languagehat at 12:53 PM on May 13, 2008

I used to love comics. I had mounds of them as a kid; Classics Illustrated comics taught me to read long after my (quite good and patient, really) teachers had given up the job. I have a vivid memory of picking up The Prisoner of Zenda one day late in the 2nd grade less than a week after last setting it down and suddenly being able to understand what the characters were saying.

But maybe I do have a problem. After I finally learned to read I hated editions of novels that were illustrated. I am also (as I assume almost everyone is who can read) a completely involuntary reader; I can't see text and not read it. As I walk down the aisle of a bookstore not looking at anything consciously, a disembodied voice announces the titles of the books as I go by-- and I don't like it.

I sometimes think written language is the enemy of imagery, and even of the ability to think in images or remember them. I'll go so far as to say that it might be interesting to explore whether beautiful calligraphy such as you have discovered for us here serves to fill part of the void left by religious prohibitions against images of certain kinds, and as such is part of written language's project to conquer territory more properly belonging to the image.
posted by jamjam at 1:23 PM on May 13, 2008

That's very different from my perspective, jamjam. To me, writing is a visual art. Letters are visual information, and they're only different from images in that they encode sound (or ideas). The way I experience writing is as a bridgehead for sound into the visual world, which I suppose isn't all that different from you hearing a disembodied voice when you walk down an aisle in a bookstore.
posted by Kattullus at 11:43 AM on May 14, 2008

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