Chapter 4 - The Islamic Calligraphy

The Quranic script from North Africa or Near East, ca. 750-800 AD is a unique combination of several aspects of early Kufic calligraphy style. Most striking of these is its Mashq, or extension of the horizontal axis of the letters. This was a common feature of the Kufic style, but rarely practiced to such an extent as here.
Calligraphy from the Greek word kalligraphía ( καλλος kallos "beauty" + γραφος graphos "writing") meaning beautiful writing plays an important role in Islam. In fact, calligraphy has been perhaps the only manifestation of the representational art in Islam, as the Islamic tradition has often frowned upon any figurative imagery of divine.

The earliest Islamic calligraphy is found in highly decorated manuscripts of Qur'an. Muslim scribes used black ink and gold leaves to write on parchment or paper. They employed an angled alphabet, called Kuffi. Such writings appeared in 8th century, and reached their apex in 10th century. Later on decoration of margin, page and other graphic techniques were added to ornate the book. In the 12th century, the Naskh alphabet was invented, which instead of angled lines used curved alphabet . Elaborations, such as foliation, interfacing, and other complexities were invented later, but they are used only for decorative work. Many different cursive scripts developed thereafter. 2

The Eastern Kufi style of this 11th century Iranian Quran is perhaps the oldest calligraphic style of the city of Kufa in Iraq. The style is characterized by its exaggerated angularity and flattened geometrical composition. This style was highly flexible for decorative use in architecture of mosques and various vessels.

This page of a 12th century Quran written in the Andalusi script is an elegant expression of the representational art of the spiritual world of Islam.The geometric interlaces of golden patterns with a black border are scattered throughout the text with decorated Arabic alphabet letters and the triple golden acorns which serve to mark the end of each sentence.

This Andalusian manuscript on pink paper, early 13th century was made for a member of an oligarchic family , probably from Granada or Valencia. The pink paper was produced in the town of Jativa, south-west of Valencia (al-waraq al-Shatibi).


Koran manuscript, 13th century. Sura 200: "O ye who believe, persevere in patience and constancy; in such perseverance strengthen each other and fear God that ye may prosper!" Ben Yussuf Library, Marrakesh, Morocco.

  1. See: M. S. Dimand, Ph. D. Curator of Near Eastern Art The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ''A Handbook of Muhammadan Art''. New York, HARTSDALE HOUSE , 1947 .
  2. Miner, Dorothy E. compiler, 2000 Years of Calligraphy, an Exhibition Organized [1965] by the Baltimore Museum of Art, et al. New Jersey: Rowman & Littlefield, 1972

Go to the next Chapter; Chapter 5 - Calligraphy in East Asia

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