Calligraphy is not just beautiful handwriting but a skill that embraces grace, versatility and elegance to engage the senses
The very display of calligraphy frames neatly emblazoned on walls are enough to elevate my senses. Every work of art stands out for its precision, elegance and exclusiveness. The flowing succession of ascending verticals, tapering curves and temperate horizontals are eye-catching. This was my usual feeling when I, year after year, feasted on the neat specimens of noble art at the annual calligraphy exhibition held under the auspices of The Omani Association for Fine Arts, Muscat.
To the Islamic world, especially the Arab states, calligraphy is not just beautiful handwriting but a skill which embraces grace, versatility and elegance to engage the senses. Calligraphy was once an important strand in the Islamic arts landscape and the art, adorning the mosques, mausoleums, metal works, ceramics, building stuccos, bowls, textiles, coins, etc. It is a visual delight.
Calligraphy is divided in six different parts: Kufic, Thuluth, Naskhi (all three wholly of Arab origin), Riq’a, Dewani and Taliq. Ibn Muqbah, a renowned Abbasid calligrapher, is majorly credited with creating some of the styles. Ibn Al Bawwab, one of the most celebrated calligraphers of all time, and Yaqut Al Musta’simi developed these styles further. These creative artistes, spanning a period between 10th and 13th centuries, laid the foundations for calligraphy, both as a tool of government and as an art form. As interest for calligraphy further intensified, countries like Ottoman Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and India promoted the Islamic art. Little wonder, these countries produced great calligraphers.
Strokes and styles
Kufic, the square and angular variety, was one of the earliest scripts to evolve. It was mainly reserved for copying the holy Quran and for the inscriptions on stones and coins. The kufic style is undoubtedly the greatest achievement in Arabic calligraphy whose beauty and majesty make it ideal for ornamental purposes. Naskhi — which means ‘to copy’’ that is, writing quickly — is more cursive and began to replace Kufic in the 12th century. Thulut was introduced as a replacement for Kufic script and was equally beautiful with its curved, oblique lines and elegant cursive script.
Riqa combines the Arabic Naskhi and the Thuluth. It is the most preferred script now in use as an ordinary handwriting in the Arab world. Tugra is commonly used in seals, insignias, emblems, coins and stamps, in which names are engraved in graceful ways. Ottoman calligrapher’s another contribution is the script called Deewani, which was initially employed for documents issued by the Ottoman Council of State, Graceful and decorative, Deewani, with strong diagonal flourishes, spread to the Arab countries and is used for formal documents and also as architecture ornamentation.
In past decades well-known exhibitions of Islamic art have accommodated galleries on calligraphy. From the 1979 exhibition of the Musée d’Art in Geneva, which toured Europe in 1988 and 1989 to the recent The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M Sackler Gallery, calligraphy has delighted every senses.
By: Aftab H. Kola