“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 h, gutteral s, and sh, 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. One is identified with the epithet Saʻd al-Haqq wa-al-Din: he may be synonymous with the great Persian poet Saʻdi (died 1292). The lowest horizontal band containing motifs on a dark-blue 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 exercise. In the right margin appears the number 13, which indicates that the folio was probably one of many pages in a now-dispersed album.

Last updated: September 30, 2016