Siyah Mashq


This calligraphic practice 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. This fragment includes two individual leaves of siyah mashq (literally black practice in Persian) pasted together onto a single sheet of paper and provided with dark-blue and pink frames decorated with gold vine and leaf motifs. The fragment on the right also includes light-blue horizontal frames at the top and bottom on the sheet: these appear cut out from a previous manuscript and are pasted here for preservation and aesthetic purposes. In the lower left-hand corner of both calligraphic sheets appear the remnant traces of now illegible square seal impressions. Both sheets and their decorative frames are pasted onto a beautifully illuminated page with interlacing gold flowers and vines topped by three large gold flowers adorned with blue illumination. These sheets, known as siyah mashq, were entirely covered with writing as a means to practice calligraphy while conserving paper. In time, they became collectible items and thus were signed and dated (this fragment, however, has no signature or date). Many fragments such as this one were provided with a variety of decorative borders and pasted to sheets ornamented with plants or flowers painted in gold. A number of siyah mashq sheets executed at the turn of the 17th century by the great Iranian master of Nasta'liq script, ʻImād al-Ḥasanī (died 1024 AH/1615), were preserved in muraqqa'at (albums) and provided with illumination by Muhammad Hadi (active circa 1160–72 AH/1747–59). As an established genre, practice sheets followed certain rules of formal composition, largely guided by rhythm and repetition. Although siyah mashq sheets survive from about 1600, they seem to have been a particularly popular genre during the second half of the 19th century, during the artistic revival spearheaded by the Qajar ruler Nāṣir al-Dīn Shāh, shah of Iran in 1848–96.

Last updated: April 6, 2016