April 29, 2016

Quatrain for the Loved One

This calligraphic fragment includes a rubaʻi (iambic pentameter quatrain) describing competition for the loved one. At the top, the verses are initiated by an invocation to God, “Huwa” (He), and the abjad (numerical equivalent) 111. The poem then reads: “That person who holds a glass (of wine) in his hand / Has everlasting pleasure and joy. / We, wine, devout and pious ones, / Which one will the beloved prefer?” The verses are executed in black nastaʻliq script on a beige paper and are outlined in cloud bands on a background painted in gold. The text panel is surrounded by several monochromatic frames and pasted to a larger pink sheet of paper backed by cardboard. The calligrapher, Hasan Shamlu, signed his work in the lower-right corner of the text panel with the expression mashaqahu (written by). Hasan Shamlu (died circa 1666−67) was a calligrapher in nastaʻliq script who followed closely the style of his predecessor Mir ‘Imad al-Hasani (died 1615). Works by Hasan Shamlu are rather uncommon; calligraphies by Mir ‘Imad are less rare, and are well represented in the collections of the Library of Congress. Both calligraphers provide a continuum of calligraphic works produced in nastaʻliq script in (Greater) Persia during the course of the 17th century.

Sample of a Hopeful Letter

This calligraphic fragment is intended as an example of how a letter to a friend is to be written. The text, written in a fluid shikastah- nastaʻliq in black ink, is outlined in cloud bands and placed on a background painted in gold. Several borders in orange, blue, and gold frame the text panel, which is pasted to a larger sheet of pink paper backed with cardboard for support. The letter begins with two verses of poetry about hope after disappointment. They read: “Look at the bird of the heart, his wing and feathers burned / He has the hope (to return to) the nest, still still still . . .” The sample letter then proceeds with expressions that the writer must use when missing a friend and wishing to see him again. The calligrapher’s signature appears vertically at the top of the text panel and reads: "mashaqahu al-ʻabd al-aqall . . . ‘Abdallah al-musammah bi-khatim al-anbiya'" (written by the modest servant ‘Abdallah known as the “Seal of the Prophets”). The calligrapher, whose name is shared with that of the Prophet Muhammad, has added a note indicating that he wrote his composition in the month of Muharram. Although he does not specify the year, the script is typical of 18th-century Persian calligraphic works.

Quatrain on Reaching Divine Unity

This calligraphic fragment includes a rubaʻi (iambic pentameter quatrain) on the subject of spiritual transformation. At the top right, an invocation to God, Huwa al-ʻaziz (He is the Glorified), precedes the quatrain’s verses, which read: “When the close of my pain became the reason of my cure / My lowness changed into loftiness, and disbelief became faith / Spirit and heart and body were the obstacle to the path (toward God) / But now body became heart, heart became spirit, and spirit became the ‘Spirit of Spirits’.” The mystic describes his path towards God as hijab (veiled) because of his physical self. Only once he transforms himself into pure spirit can he be united with God, the Jan Janan (Spirit of Spirits). This motif of revelation and divine unity through spiritual metamorphosis is typical of ʻirfani (mystical) poets, such as Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi (popularly known in Persian as Mawlana, and in English as Rumi, 1207–73). Below the quatrain, the calligrapher, (Mir) ‘Imad al-Hasani, has signed his work with his name and a request for God’s forgiveness. Mir ‘Imad was born in 1552, spent time in Herat and Qazvin, and finally settled in Isfahan (then capital of Safavid Persia), where, as a result of his implication in court intrigues, he was murdered in 1615. He was a master of nastaʻliq script, whose works were admired and copied by his contemporaries and later collected by the Mughals. Many works in international collections are signed by him, although whether all these pieces are really by his hand remains uncertain.

Verses by Shaykh Baha'i

This calligraphic fragment includes verses composed by Shaykh Bahaʼi, a Persian mystical poet of the 11th century. The poem describes the many ways in which to express one’s love of God: “Oh, the arrow of Your grief (is) the target of Your lovers’ heart(s) / People are mesmerized by You, but You are absent from both time and place / Sometimes I retire to my monastery, others I inhabit a mosque / That means that I search for You from house to house / Everyone speaks about his love for You in (his own) language / The lover by the song of sorrow and the minstrel by (his) melody.” The verses are executed in black nastaʻliq script written diagonally on a cream-colored paper decorated with delicate flower and leaf motifs painted in gold. The spaces created by the intersection of the diagonal lines of text and the rectangular frame are filled by illuminated triangles (or thumb pieces). The central text panel is framed by several borders, including an outermost border which contains further verses in Persian individually cut out and pasted into the rectangular panels. The entirety of the composition is contained on a beige sheet of paper painted with gold flowers and backed by cardboard. The composition is neither signed nor dated; however, the script and decorative style are typical of calligraphies made during the Safavid period (16th century) in Persia.

Illuminated Frontispiece

This illuminated frontispiece was intended for a divan (compendium) of poems, which included kulliyat (collections) of muqatʻat (fragmentary verses) and qasaʼid (lyric poems), among many poetic forms. The name of each kitab (book) of verse is inscribed in white ink in every individual rectangular panel on the vertical left border of the frontispiece. These title panels are painted directly on the cardboard, which serves as a backing for the rest of the salvaged frontispiece. For this reason, they possibly are not part of the original piece. The frontispiece consists of a central roundel decorated with seven blue petals stemming from a central orange circle bordered on its perimeter by a gold strip. The outer perimeter is decorated in red, and delicate finials emanate like rays from the central roundel. The corners of the central panel are also filled with illuminated patterns, forming a diamond-shaped plain panel. All around the rectangular panel further decorative medallions ornament the margins of the page, which is pasted to the aforementioned cardboard. This frontispiece may have belonged to a Persian manuscript made in the 16th or 17th centuries.

“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.