Arabic and Persian Excerpts

This calligraphic fragment includes a number of textual excerpts in Arabic and Persian. The top three lines include an invocation to God and a saying in Arabic about the necessity to trust in him. The next few horizontal lines include a saying in Persian about God’s will. The diagonal lines of text in the lower half of the fragment quote the famous Persian poet Shaykh Saʻdi Shirazi (died 1292, 691 AH) beginning with the note min kalam-i Saʻdi Shirazi (from the words of Saʻdi Shirazi). The text taken from Saʻdi is translated from Persian to Arabic in this fragment and gives advice to be aware of what one says. The text is written in black tahriri script. Some orthographic marks and vowels are picked out in red ink, and all lines of text are separated visually by red strokes. The ends of certain sections or phrases also are marked by pyramids consisting of three red dots. The paper is thin and brown, and is damaged at the bottom. In the lower-right corner, the calligrapher Fayaz ʻAli Vasiʻi states that raqamahu (he wrote) this fragment, and in the lower-left corner he has baraya khatir-i (dedicated) his piece to a certain Mamki Nahali. He has written vertically in the top-right margin that he wrote his piece on a ruz-i panjshamba (Thursday), although he does not specify the month or year. As Nahali is a language spoken in Madhya Pradesh, the name of the patron suggests a north-central Indian provenance for this calligraphy. The script—a fluid tahriri found in 18th and 19th-century calligraphies from India—also suggests an Indian provenance.

Excerpt from Saʻdi's "Gulistan"

This beautiful calligraphic fragment includes an excerpt from Gulistan (The rose garden), in which the author offers nasihat (advice) about each man's necessities. For example, a vazir (vizier or minister) needs a lashgar (army) and tarbiyat (education); a raʻiyat (farmer) must observe [nature]; kings need wise ministers; and brave men need silah (weapons) and asp (horses). The text is executed in black nastaʻliq script on a beige paper. The words are framed by cloud bands and placed on a gold background decorated with the painting of a tree and various flowers. The main text panel is framed by a border containing further verses in Persian on an illuminated background. The entire composition is then provided with a number of monochromatic frames and is pasted to a larger sheet of dark-blue paper decorated with gold flowers and backed by cardboard. The calligraphic specimen is neither dated nor signed. However, the decorative pattern and the style of the folio resemble folios inserted into albums produced during the 17th and 18th centuries in Mughal India.

Quatrain on Unity of Lovers

This calligraphic fragment includes a rubaʻi (iambic pentameter quatrain) on the primordial nature of a lover’s affection. Beginning with an invocation to Huwa al-ʻaziz (God, the Glorious), the verses read: “How good is that person in the bazaar of love / He died for your sadness and bought your sorrow with his heart / It is not today that the story of love in Salman’s heart (began) / God created me and my love of you in tandem.” The verses are executed in black nastaʻliq script on a beige paper framed by a pasted border decorated with interlacing leaf and vine motifs. In the bottom horizontal panel, the calligrapher Pir Muhammad b. Dust Muhammad states that katabahu (he wrote) the piece. In the lower-left corner of the text panel, he also specifies that he has naql min khatt (copied the handwriting) of the ustadh al-kamil (master teacher) Muhammad ʻAli Bukhari. Pir Muhammad b. Dust Muhammad’s statement suggests that he may have used a calligraphic specimen by his teacher as a model for his own, either adapting it or copying it directly. Unfortunately, as neither calligrapher appears to be recorded in historical sources, it is difficult to suggest a date of execution and a provenance for this piece.

"Muraqqaʻ" (Album) of Poetical Excerpts

This calligraphic sample from a muraqqaʻ (album) of calligraphies includes poetical verses composed by the poets Zahir Faryabi (died 1201 or 1202), Shaykh Abu al-Fayz ibn Mubarak Fayzi (known as Fayzi, died circa 1595), Khwaja Afzal-i Taraka (died 1185), and Asiriddini Akhsikati (circa 1126‒circa 1181). Their names are picked out in gold ink and are followed by their respective verses, which are chosen for their thematic unity. The verses all describe the power of ‘ishq (love) and its rewards. In the right column, a rubaʻi (iambic pentameter quatrain), by Shaykh Fayzi Hindi written in diagonal describes the effects of love. Another of his love quatrains appears on the main text panel on the fragment’s recto. The verses are executed in black nastaʻliq script written diagonally on a cream-colored paper and horizontally on panels made of beige paper. Corners created by the intersection of the diagonal verses and the horizontal and vertical frames are filled with illuminated triangular panels. The text panel is framed by borders of various colors and pasted to a larger sheet of beige paper decorated with various vegetal and geometric motifs painted in gold. The verso of this folio from an album (muraqqaʻ) of calligraphies includes excerpts by the poets Fayzi, Mawlana Baqiri (Muhammad ibn ʿUmar al-Baqari, 1609‒1700), and (Muhammad Husayn) Chalabi Tabrizi (17th century). The names of the three poets are picked out in red ink on the folio and are followed by their respective poetical verses. In the center of the text panel appears one rubaʻi, and two tak bayt (single verses) by the Deccani poet Fayzi. The quatrain describes a lover’s enchantment at his beloved's face, which entices him to look at it again and again. It reads: “Oh God, how do you appear when my eye looks upon your face / By every glance it (my eye) is beguiled to take another look / Oh, from the lie of procrastination at the foot of deceit / On tomorrow’s Day of Gathering, she searches for another tomorrow.” The verses are written in black nastaʻliq script on a blue paper decorated with leaf motifs painted in gold. Verses also form registers around the central text panel, separated by squares filled with decorative motifs in blue or gold. The entire text panel is pasted to a larger cream-colored sheet decorated with painted gold flowers and backed by cardboard. In the lower-left corner of the panel containing the diagonal verses by Fayzi, the calligapher Mirza Quli Mayli has signed his work with his name inscribed vertically. He was most likely a calligrapher active in Persia (Iran) during the 17th or 18th century.

Rubaʻis by Hafiz

This calligraphic fragment includes three rubaʻiyat (iambic pentameter quatrains) arranged in corresponding vertical and horizontal panels. The verses written diagonally in the upper-right corner describe the duplicity of humankind: “(Bad deeds) have a very strange adjective / This bizarre Satan that eats people / Most people are cannibals / You are not safe when they greet you.” Another quatrain by the Persian poet Hafiz (died 1388‒89, 791 AH) is inscribed in vertical panels, the last two verses of which appear on a background painted with gold leaves. This quatrain describes respect owed to one’s superiors: “My heart is in your house of love / (My) eye is the mirror that reflects your brilliance / I, who do not prostrate myself to the two worlds, / My neck is under the weight of your favor.” The verses are executed in black nastaʻliq script in independent registers on a background decorated with illuminated triangular and rectangular panels. The entirety of the text panel is pasted to a larger sheet of beige paper decorated with light-blue vegetal motifs. The fragment is neither dated nor signed. However, it appears to have been produced in Iran in the 16th or 17th centuries and placed later into a muraqqaʻ (album) of calligraphies.


This calligraphic fragment belongs to a series of 22 inshaʼ (literary compositions or letters) written by calligraphers named Mir Kalan, Khan Zaman (son of Khan Khanan), Qaʼim Khan, Lutfallah Khan, and Mahabat Khan. Judging from the script (Indian nastaʻliq), a seal impression bearing the date 1113 AH (1701−2), and a letter mentioning the city of Janpur in India, it appears that these writings were executed in India during the 18th century. Furthermore, if one were to identify the calligrapher Mir Kalan as the renowned painter active during the mid-18th century in Lucknow, then this identification would add further support to identifying this calligraphic series in the Library of Congress’ collection as a corpus of materials produced by several writers active in 18th-century India. The calligraphies are typically written in a hasty nastaʻliq on white paper, framed in blue, and pasted to a pink or salmon cardboard. They stand out for being in rather poor condition, in many cases badly damaged by worm holes and/or water stains. Some bear squiggle-like marks in the margins, while others include seal impressions that were cut out and pasted onto the cardboards. In most cases, an attribution to a calligrapher is written at the top, preceded by the expression raqamahu (written by) or khatt-i (the handwriting of). An attribution note at the top of the recto of this fragment states that this calligraphic fragment was raqamahu (written by) Qaʻim Khan. The main text, written in black ink, appears on both a white paper speckled in blue and a marble paper decorated with orange flowers and green leaves. In the center of the lower horizontal margin appears a seal impression bearing the date 1116 AH (1704‒5). At the beginning of the composition appears the phrase in praise of God Huwa al-qadir (God, the All-Powerful), followed by the writer’s letter. Here, he states that he received his friend’s letter and has wanted to write back. He is distressed that he has not heard from his friend. To make his message clear, the writer includes a bayt (verse) by Hafiz (died 1388−89, 791 AH) on separation and pain, as well as a Qurʼanic ayah (verse) stating that if someone helps others, God will help him in return. An attribution note at the top of the verso of this fragment states that this calligraphy also was written by (raqamahu) by Qaʻim Khan. The main text, written in black ink, appears on both a white paper speckled in blue and a marble paper decorated with orange flowers and green leaves. At the beginning of the composition appears the word huwa (literally, “He,” functioning as the laudatory incipit “In the Name of God”), followed by the writer’s letter to a certain Navab Sahib, stating that he is very thankful to the latter for his help, and that he is his servant and wishes to be at his side again.

Quatrain on True Knowledge

This calligraphic fragment provides a rubaʻi (iambic pentameter quatrain) written in black nastaʻliq script. The text is outlined in cloud bands filled with blue and placed on a gold background. In the upper-right corner, a gold decorative motif fills in the triangular space otherwise left empty by the intersection of the rectangular frame and the diagonal lines of text. The verses read “I arrived at a worshipper’s in the area of Baylaqan. / I said: ‘With tutoring purify me from ignorance.’ / He said: ‘Oh, Thoughtful One, go, because, like the earth, you can withstand all, / Or bury everything that you have read under the soil.’” These verses show how the poet sought out tarbiyat (spiritual teaching or tutoring) from a wise man, who responded that learned knowledge may be cast aside. Baylaqan (present-day Beylagan, Azerbaijan) was a city known for its purifying waters. Below the quatrain, the calligrapher, (Mir) ʻImad al-Hasani, has signed his work with his name and a request for God’s forgiveness. Mir ʻImad 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.

The Battle of Mazandaran from "Hamzahnamah"

This large-scale painting depicts the Battle of Mazandaran, an event in the Persian romance of the mythical adventures and battles of Amir Hamzah, the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, recorded in the famous Hamzahnamah (Book of Hamzah). The Hamzahnamah was begun around 1564 under the sponsorship of the Mughal emperor Akbar (ruled 1556‒1605) and was completed in approximately 15 years. This painting is number 38 in the seventh volume of the Hamzahnamah, as inscribed between the legs of the man in the bottom center. It depicts a battle scene in which the protagonists Khwajah ʻUmar and Hamzah, nicknamed Sahib Qiran (Owner of the Epochs), and their armies engage in a fierce battle. Originally, the faces were depicted, subsequently erased by iconoclasts, and repainted in more recent times. Only the face of the groom wearing an orange turban in the center of the left edge has been left untouched. Immediately above this figure, a soldier in a studded gold tunic has a disjointed face, revealing how an old border was removed and faces retouched. Approximately 50 painters worked on the project under the supervision of the famous artists Mir Sayyid ʻAli and ʻAbd al-Samad, who both had worked circa 1522‒35 on the royal Shahnamah of the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp. Although a number of the paintings are linked to specific artists, this particular one does not bear an attribution mark. The large-scale text panel on the verso describes the Battle of Mazandaran. The text is executed in black nastaʻliq script on a large beige sheet of paper that bears substantial water damage. The last three lines also exhibit the crowded writing that is seen frequently in the manuscript as the scribe or scribes struggled to fit the complete the narrative account on each text page.

Moral Lessons Through Bird Stories

This calligraphic fragment includes verses providing two separate stories, in which the protagonists are birds. The first narrative describes two falcons in the desert talking about whether to join the king. The smart one refuses because he notes that freedom is better than service, even to a royal patron. The second story describes a hunter about to shoot a small bird. The latter prays to God to save it, at which time the hunter begins to tremble and his arrow misses the bird. Through God’s intercession, the prey is saved from an untimely death. These moralizing verses are written both vertically and horizontally in black shikastah-nastaʻliq script on a white piece of paper. The verses are divided by red lines. The text panel is pasted to a green piece of paper backed by cardboard and framed by a border heavily damaged by worm holes. In the lower-right corner of the text panel, the calligrapher Muhammad Valikhan Khattat, known as Chalaq (the Speedy One), has signed his work. He also notes that it was completed in 1260 AH (1844). From this information, one may hypothesize that this Muhammad Valikhan Khattat was a swift writer active in Iran during the mid-19th century.

Two Lovers Lost at Sea from Saʻdi's "Bustan"

This calligraphic fragment includes, in the main text panel, four verses from Saʻdi’s Bustan (The fruit garden), in which he succinctly describes the tragic story of two lovers who fall into a whirlpool in the sea. When a sailor attempts to save them, each lover asks him to save the other—as he turns to each one, it becomes too late and both die: “I read that, in a very large sea, / They fell together into a whirlpool. / When the sailor arrived to give a hand / So that they not die in that difficult situation...” The text is executed in black nastaʻliq script framed by cloud bands on a background covered in gold leaf and decorated by vine motifs in black ink. In the upper and lower corners, the spaces between the diagonal lines of text and the rectangular frame are filled by illuminated triangles (or thumb pieces). The main text panel is framed by several borders, including one that contains ten verses of poetry separated by red panels decorated by gold flower designs. The decoration is of mediocre quality and may have been added after the text panel, itself possibly executed in Iran during the 16th‒17th centuries.