Black Practice


This calligraphic sheet includes a number of diagonal words and letters used in combinations facing upwards and downwards on the folio. The common Persian cursive script nasta'liq is favored over the more "broken" shikastah script. These sheets--known as siyah mashq (literally “black practice”) in Persian--were entirely covered with writing as a means of practicing calligraphy and conserving paper. In time, they became collectible items and thus were signed and dated (this fragment, however, does not appear to be signed or dated). Many fragments such as this one were given a variety of decorative borders and pasted to sheets ornamented with plants or flowers painted in gold. Even the calligraphic exercise itself appears on a background of painted clouds decorated with illuminated flowers. A number of siyah mashq sheets executed at the turn of the 17th century by the great Iranian master of nasta'liq script, 'Imad al-Hasani (died 1615 [1024 AH]), were decorated in gold, preserved in albums (muraqqa'at), and provided with illumination by Muhammad Hadi circa 1747-1759 (1160-1172 AH). Although siyah mashq sheets from around 1600 survive, they seem to have been a particularly popular genre during the second half of the 19th century.

Last updated: April 6, 2016