Arabic Calligraphy
‫حسن الخط العربي‬
The Act of Writing
• In calligraphy the
production of the character
is an artistic act.
• In calligraphy, each
character is treated as a
plastic image to convey
harmony, grace, and
• Calligraphic styles have
changed over time and in
relation to different
Bismilleh pear calligraphy,
The Act of Writing
In calligraphy, each character or word
is treated as an image and must
satisfy three criteria:
Calligraphy courtesy of Hassan Massoudy
(Slides one and three) from
Communication (semantic)
criteria. It must convey the
meaning of the word it
Phonetic criteria. It must
represent the corresponding
sounds of letters it depicts.
Aesthetic criteria. A calligraphic
work has its own autonomy and
integrity as a shape in space. It
must meet appropriate artistic
Visual Representation
• In Arabic and Persian
calligraphy characters are
sometimes arranged in the
forms of plants or animals.
This produces a visual
message in addition to the
linguistic one.
• In Arabic calligraphy,
characters may be arranged
to satisfy mathematical
criteria, whose perfect
production may itself carry
a message.
Nastaliq Persian Calligraphy,
• Most writing is produced in vertical or horizontal lines.
• Chinese can be written in three directions: left-to-right,
right-to-left, and vertically.
• Arabic and Hebrew are written right-to-left, while
English and other Latin-based systems are written leftto-right.
• Greek writing could be both left-to-right and right-toleft and was sometimes both.
• In calligraphy characters may defy the conventions of
direction as long as they do not compromise
• In calligraphy characters are placed in space according
to aesthetic or other criteria.
Photos of
children with their
wood writing
tablets (Allouha).
Children learn to
write and recite
the Qu’ran in this
way in much of
West Africa.
(Images from
• The medium selected for
writing influences its
• Earliest writing may have
been painted on ceramics.
• Written texts can be carved in
stone, as on grave markers or
on buildings, or etched in
• They can be woven into
fabric, as in carpet making.
• Written symbols can also be
arranged into slats that form
doors or windows.
• Arabic is one of the most important scripts in the
• It is descended from the early Semitic scripts of
western Asia that also lay the basis for Latin and
other alphabets.
• About 950 million people speak Arabic and many
more people use its alphabet.
Map of Arabic-speaking countries,
• Arabic is written from right to left.
• Arabic is an efficient language with
17 basic consonants.
• Vowels are indicated by markers
above, below, or alongside the
• Arabic is generally written in a cursive style with letters linking to one
• There is no upper and lower case in Arabic letters, but there are rules
regarding the form of the letter in relation to it place in the word.
Writing and the Word of God
Since the words of the Prophet Muhammed may only be
written in Arabic, the act of writing has special import in
the Islamic world.
A calligrapher may be motivated by spiritual
inspiration. He may use his calligraphy as a medium to
convey the greatness of God.
In Islamic traditions, therefore, calligraphy has been
held in high regard.
Secular calligraphers combine movement of line with
poetic meanings to produce aesthetic experience.
Arabic Writing: Passing it On!
Since the words of the Prophet Muhammed may only
be written in Arabic, the Arabic language has traveled
far and wide with the spread of Islam.
Arabic script is used by languages that are not Semitic,
such as Persian, Urdu, Indonesian, and others.
These languages have adapted the Arabic alphabet to
meet their own phonetic requirements.
A Qur’an may have Arabic in the center of the page, and
a local translation, also in Arabic script but not
language, in the margins.
Handwritten letter in Urdu,
Arabic calligraphy is the art of beautiful writing
The Arabic
calligrapher uses a
reed pen (qalam)
with a point cut on
an angle.
This feature
produces a thick
down stroke and a
thin upstroke with
an infinity of
gradation in
Calligraphy writing implements,
• There are many
different styles of
Arabic Calligraphy. It
can be done on many
different mediums.
• Detailed on the right
are a few classic
examples of the major
styles of Arabic
Calligraphy in the
Islamic world.
Six calligraphic styles,
• Arabic Calligraphy can be done on many different
• The following slides show classic examples of the major
styles of Arabic Calligraphy in the Islamic world.
Images: Emirates Air (left) and Arabic graffiti (right)
Calligraphy as a Stamp of Authority
Tughra (Imperial Cipher) ca. 1555; Ottoman
Istanbul. Ink, colors, and gold on paper; 20 1/2 x 25 3/8
in. (52.1 x 64.5 cm) Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.149.1)
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
A calligraphic image may represent a
stamp of authority. In Ottoman Turkey
the tughra was a calligram that served
as an emblem of the sultan. Not being
easily forged, it was used to legitimize
royal decrees, bequests, and coins. It
indicated the name of the sultan and his
father, as well as the phrase "eternally
victorious." A special court artist was
required to draw the tughra calligram.
An illuminator added delicate natural
forms, scroll designs, color, and gold
leaf. From the use of the first tughra in
1324, the forms became increasingly
ornate and elaborate. The tughra shown
to the left, which belonged to the Sultan
Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-566),
contains three vertical shafts and a
number of concentric loops in complex,
graceful, flowing lines.
In a calligram an inscription takes the form
of a flower, bird or other animal, or, with less
frequency, an inanimate object such as a
Here, the text follows the outline of a
peacock's spread tail feathers. Praising an
unnamed sultan, it reads:
Album leaf, 17th century; Ottoman Turkey
Ink, colors, and gold on paper; 9 5/8 x 7 in. Louis V.
Bell Fund, 1967 ( Metropolitan Museum
of Art.
“Beautiful …of angelic character, of
auspicious omen, envy of the perfect ones,
parrot of sweet tongue and sweet speech,
peacock of the garden of … the lofty decree,
sultan of the sultans of the world, fortunate
and august, khaqan of the shahs, Darius of
the time, Faridun of the age, hero of the
world, [text reverses direction] champion of
earth and time, sultans of the sultan of the
family of Uthman ibn Sultan Ghazi Khan …
may God extend the days of his [happiness]
to the day of [judgment?].
The script reverses direction half way
This page of a Qur'an depicts two
types of script:
muhaqqaq in the three lines in body of
the page,
and the kufic script in the upper and
lower margins.
The page was signed by Ahmad ibn
al-Suhrawardi al-Bakri, one of the six
celebrated disciples of Yaqut alMusta'simi, a great master of cursive
calligraphy. The page was illuminated
by Muhammad ibn Aybak. It was
completed in the year 1307–8;
(Ilkhanid period) in Baghdad.
Iraq, Rogers Fund, 1955 (55.44) Metropolitan Museum of Art
This ceramic bowl
from the 9th century
is an early example
of calligraphy as a
main element in
decorative design.
The Arabic word
ghibta, meaning
happiness, is
repeated in two
cobalt blue lines in
the center of the
bowl against a
neutral slip
Bowl, 9th century; Abbasid period (750–1258)
Attributed to Iraq
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1963 (63.159.4) Metropolitan
Museum of Art,
Sandstone roundel, early 17th century, India. Diam. 18
1/2 in. Edward Pearce Casey Fund, 1985 (1985.240.1)
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
This sandstone roundel from the
Deccan, (ca. seventeenth century),
shows skill in both calligraphy and
stonework. The Arabic invocation
Yacaziz, "Oh Mighty!" (one of the
ninety-nine Most Beautiful Names
of God), is repeated eight times in
mirror juxtaposition in the thuluth
script. An eight-pointed star
emerges from the shafts of the
letter a, while the z's of caziz,
mirrored and knotted, form a
heart-shaped ornament. The
number eight, aside from its
geometrical qualities, points also
to eternal bliss and the eight
paradises of which the Islamic
tradition speaks, thus adding yet
another level of meaning. The
calligrapher, although working in
Deccan, India, is thought to be
Metal engraving
This 15th century helmet bears
incised Persian engravings
decorated with silver. In
addition, the metal is stamped
with the mark of the Ottoman
arsenals, suggesting that it came
into Turkish possession as war
Helmet, Iran. Steel, engraved and
damascened with silver; Rogers Fund, 1950
(50.87) Metropolitan Museum of Art,
This 13th century Egyptian hanging lamp bears
several kinds of insignia. It shows entwined
bows, symbolizing the Keeper of the Bow, as it
also bears the word for the Keeper of the bow:
The inscription, written in the thuluth style,
reads: "That which was made for the tomb of the
noble, the elevated, / the cAla'i, the Keeper of the
Bow, / may Allah sanctify his soul."
An inscription on the lamp indicates that it was
made for the tomb of the Mamluk emir Aydakin
al-cAla'i al-Bunduqdar who died in the 1285.
The neck of the lamp shows an unusual mistake
-- as the calligrapher misspelled the word
bunduqdar to read bunqud-dar.
Mosque lamp (ca. 1285) Mamluk, Egypt.
Brownish colorless glass, free-blown, enameled, gilded, and
stained; tooled on the pontil; H. 10 3/8 in., Max. Diam. 8 1/4 in.
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.985) Metropolitan
Museum of Art,
Data and images provided with the courtesy
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Hassan Massoudy (
Christina Campbell and Janet Chernela
University of Maryland

Arabic Calligraphy Full Powerpoint