Traces of the Calligrapher: Islamic Calligraphy in Practice

Traces of the Calligrapher: Islamic Calligraphy in Practice, c. 1600-1900 and Writing the Word of God: Calligraphy and the Qur’an

In Islamic culture, it is well known that calligraphy has retained its status as the quintessential art form, and that calligraphers have been among the most highly esteemed artists. “The first thing created by God was the pen,” according to a Qur´anic dictum, and the practice of calligraphy constituted an expression of piety. Acquiring skill in beautiful writing was an exercise that expanded into another range of values: calligraphy could convey the ideas of a person, by putting them in writing, and also record his or her moral fiber for posterity. Calligraphy became a hallmark of high culture, a trace of its maker.

Traces of the Calligrapher brings together exceptional works of the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries from Iran, India, and Turkey. Drawn from a private collection in Houston, the exhibition comprises pens, pen boxes, chests, tables, paper scissors, knives, burnishers, and book bindings of superb manufacture and design. These objects are presented with contemporary examples of calligraphy that were executed as practice exercises, occasional works, wall hangings, and manuscripts. The collection is unrivaled in the world, and only the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul houses objects of equal renown. The exhibition also features key works from the collection of the Department of Islamic and Later Indian Art at the Harvard University Art Museums.

Traces of the Calligrapher serves to reconstruct the intimate world of the calligrapher, bringing together the “tools of the trade”—works of art in their own right—and the exquisite manifestations that result from the utilization of these functional objects. The exhibition offers new insights into the environment in which the calligrapher worked during the early modern period of Islamic culture.

Exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston

Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, its achievements and humanitarian works.

2 thoughts

  1. I have always found Arabic letters to be harmoniously curvy and sentences conducive to a fluid and flowing movement; they lend themselves often to symmetrical geometric shapes so that a well-constructed sequential sentence can often symbolize the abstract representation of Allah the Transcendent. The act of writing and drawing in Arabic also speaks to some of the knowledge imageary in the Quran, such as the Pen(Universal Intellect) writing on the Tablet(Universal Soul) like a teacher instructing a student. Other events(ayats or signs) in nature also hint at this knowledge-transferring function, eg, the Master DNA molecule in the nucleus of a cell ‘writing’ its instructions in coded form on a messenger RNA molecule, which then moves to the main part of the cell to transfer those written instructions to a complex that translates those coded instructions into a fully functional three-dimensional protein, which can symbolically represent the multi-dimensional universe in which we live, move and have our being.

    Other posts relating to geometry, symmetry, mathematical harmony both in nature and as a product of the human mind can be accessed here:

    Symmetry, Geometry and Mathematical harmony: The language of the cosmos

    Symmetry in nature; Symmetry as a product of the human mind

    Snowflakes, a beautiful, symmetric ‘ayat'(sign) in creation and one of its marvels

    Symmetry in nature; Symmetry as a product of the human mind: Part deux

    Learning about geometry from the Maker of the cosmos

    Harmonious mathematical reasoning and the Universe in which we live, move and have our being

    The learning of mathematics was therefore linked to the Muslim religion and developing an understanding of the world: IIS article

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