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, decorated with a blue frame and pasted onto a light-pink sheet painted with gold vine and flower decorations, bears a striking resemblance to another sheet in the Library of Congress. It appears that both sheets came from the same muraqqa'at (album) of calligraphies, which belonged to a patron who placed his seal impression on a number of calligraphic works. Unfortunately, the seal impression is illegible. These sheets, known as siyah mashq (literally black practice in Persian), 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 albums (muraqqa'at) 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