“Mufradat” Exercises


This calligraphic fragment creates an illuminated carpet page, which combines mufradat (letter exercises) on three horizontal lines and Persian poetical excerpts written in diagonally between colored triangular corners (called “thumb pieces”). It is the first of two fragments from the same fragmentary album held in the collections of the Library of Congress. Albums of mufradat exercises include al-huruf al-mufradah, or, in the Ottoman tradition, huruf-i muqattaʻa (the single letters) of the Arabic alphabet in sequence, followed by letters in their composite form, called in the Turkish tradition murekkebe (literally “pairs”). Exercise books begin at least by the 17th century in Ottoman and Persian lands. They were used as books of exemplars of calligraphy to introduce students into the practice of husn al-khatt (beautiful handwriting) and bear witness to the chain of transmission of calligraphic knowledge throughout the centuries. This fragment includes double-letter combinations, with the letters b, gutteral t, and gutteral s, and subsequent letters of the alphabet arranged in three horizontal registers. Immediately below each horizontal band of composite letters appears a series of Persian verses by several authors. The poetry of Abu Saʻid Abu al-Khayr (967−1049) and Shaykh Awhad al-Din is quoted. Awhad al-Din can be identified as Hakim Awhad al-Din Anvari (died 1189 or 1190), an early Persian poet who composed a kulliyat (compendium of poems) often quoted in illuminated or illustrated poetical works produced during the period of Timurid and Safavid rule in Iran. The lowest horizontal band containing motifs on a black ground and two gold scalloped roundels is composed of two rectangular panels cut out from another work and pasted onto the sheet. This procedure shows that materials were culled from other sources and “recycled” in other works, such as this poetical letter album.

Last updated: September 30, 2016