May 9, 2016

Protocol of Address

This fragment probably formed part of a munshaʼat (collection of literary compositions) showing how to write appropriate praises to a ruler. Like this piece, a number of these calligraphies appear to have been executed in taʻliq script in India during the 17th and 18th centuries. The collections of the Library of Congress hold other works of inshaʼ (composition), also made in India at this time, that provide examples of how to compose letters to a friend. This particular fragment demonstrates the composition of a naʻt or munajat (formal praise) to a ruler using his many alqab (honorific epithets). It provides a blueprint for the literary protocols used in addressing a high-ranking patron. Executed in black Indian taʻliq, the text is outlined in gold cloud bands on a beige paper. The background is decorated with delicate flower-and-vine motifs painted in gold. In the lower panel, three lines of text are written diagonally, while the empty spaces in the upper-left and lower-right corners of this panel are filled by illuminated triangles (called “thumb pieces”). The text panel is framed by two blue borders and pasted to a pink sheet of paper backed by cardboard.

Shiʻi Invocation to a Ruler

This calligraphic fragment contains a Shiʻi praise to a ruler by comparing him to the figure of ʻAli, son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, and his famous double-edged sword, Dhu al-Fiqar (“Cleaver of the Spine”): “Oh Dignity of Haydar, it shows on your forehead, / Your name is like Dhu al-Fiqar in battle.” The two verses thus compare the ruler to ʻAli, the Haydar Allah (Lion of God), and liken his name to ʻAli’s victorious sword. The text is written in black nastaʻliq on a beige paper framed by a light-brown border cut out and pasted to a larger sheet of paper backed by cardboard. In the outside margin, the calligrapher’s name, Hafiz Nur Allah, seems to have been added at a later date. Nothing is known about this calligrapher, although the style and content of the fragment suggests that it was executed in a Shiʻi milieu in India during the 18th century.

"Mufradat" Exercise

This calligraphic panel includes a letter exercise combining the letter hāʼ (h) with all other letters of the alphabet starting with the letter ʼalif (a) and ending with the letter yāʼ (y). This particular exercise shows how an initial hāʼ letter must be connected to any number of subsequent letters or letter combinations. These composite letters, executed in nastaʻliq script in black ink on white paper, are framed in blue and pasted to a purple piece of paper strengthened by a cardboard backing. Albums of mufradat (letter 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 (in the Turkish tradition, murekkebe, literally “pairs”). Exercise books begin at least during the 17th century and are typical of Ottoman calligraphic practices. 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. The collections of the Library of Congress include a number of other letter exercise sheets.

"The Chinese Girl and the Slave" from Saʻdi's "Gulistan"

This fragment and its verso include the text of the 40th story from Gulistan (The rose garden) by Shaykh Saʻdi Shirazi (circa 1213–92). This story describes a king’s giving away of a Chinese servant girl to his slave after she refused the king’s drunken advances. The text on the recto describes the slave in an unflattering manner. On the verso, the text continues by describing the king’s passing the servant girl to the slave, since she was already “consumed.” The terminal verses conclude: “The thirsty heart does not wish for limpid water / Half of which was consumed by a fetid mouth. / How can a king’s hand again touch / An orange after it has fallen into dung?” The text is written in black nastaʻliq script on a blue paper framed by several borders and pasted to a beige paper decorated by flower-and-leaf motifs painted in gold. The prose part of the text is executed in continuous horizontal lines, while the poetical verses interspersed throughout the narrative are outlined by rectangular frames provided with central gutters. This layout is found in manuscripts of Saʻdi’s Gulistan produced during the Timurid and Safavid periods in Persia (Iran), i.e., during the 15th and 16th centuries.

ʻId (Feast Day) Prayer for Good Fortune

This calligraphic fragment includes two bayts (verses) wishing its owner prosperity and happiness on the occasion of an ʻid. “It is ʻid, congratulations on the new celebration / May the crown of fortune be your summit / May the Chapters of Victory and Blessing / Be your protectors and supporters in both worlds.” In this prayer, which probably was written for the celebration of the ʻId-i Nawruz (New Year), a patron is wished protection through two Qurʼanic chapters, namely Surat al-Fath (Victory, Qurʼan 48) and Surat Tabarak (Blessing), otherwise known as Surat al-Mulk (The kingdom, Qurʼan 67). These two verses are known for their apotropaic and protective powers, and thus are appropriate in a prayer wishing success and well-being. The verses are executed in Indian naskh script in dark-brown ink and are framed by cloud bands on a background painted with a light-brown wash. Each bayt is executed in diagonal and contained in a separate rectangular frame. The whole of the text frame has been pasted to a larger sheet of beige paper backed by cardboard. In the lower-left corner appears the calligrapher’s signature, which reads: “mashaqahu al-faqir (written by the poor) Agha Muhammad ʻAli (or Muhammad ʻAli Agha).” Part of the signature—along with the last word (bad) of the poem’s final verse—has been filled in later, since a part of the original calligraphy was lost or damaged. Muhammad ʻAli is otherwise unrecorded. However, judging from the fragment’s script and theme, it can be surmised that this piece was executed in India sometime during the 18th or 19th century as a New Year’s gift to an eminent patron.

Advice ("Nasihat") to a King from Saʻdi's "Bustan"

This fragment includes an excerpt from Bustan (The fruit orchard), by Shaykh Saʻdi Shirazi (circa 1213–92), in which he offers nasihat (advice) to a ruler. The author counsels a king not to worry about what he does not have, because all things come to an end. He also notes that good deeds matter, as only a man’s reputation and the memory of him remain after his death. Saʻdi’s text continues on the fragment’s verso, as evidenced by the similar subject matter and the continuation of the makun takiyah (catchwords) in the lower-left corner of the recto. The calligraphic fragment is executed in black nastaʻliq script in horizontal and diagonal lines on a beige folio decorated with polygonal motifs highlighted in gold. Various text panels are framed by simple borders, creating a complex web of verses in a quilt-like pattern. The text panel is framed by several borders and pasted to blue paper decorated with flower-and-medallion motifs painted in gold. The folio’s layout and style are typical of works produced in Safavid Persia (Iran) during the 16th century.