Text and images from Selections of Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Calligraphy
Ruba’is by Hafiz
Dimensions of Written Surface: 15 x 25 (h) cm
This calligraphic fragment includes three iambic pentameter quatrains, or ruba’is, arranged in corresponding vertical and horizontal panels. The verses written diagonally in the upper right corner describe humans’ duplicity:
Yak sifat-i ‘ajab amad in ammara-ra / Bu al-‘ajab ifrit-i mardum khwara-ra / Adami khwarand aghlab marduman / Az salam ‘alaykashan kam ju aman
(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(d. 791/1388-9) 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 ones superiors:
Dil sara parda-yi muhabbat-i tu-st / Dida ayina dar-i tal’at-i tu-st / Man ka sar dar nayavaram bi-du kawm / Gardanam zi-i bar-i minnat-i tu-st
My heart is in your house of love / (My) eye is the mirror that reflects your brilliance / I, who do not prostrate to the two worlds, / My neck is under the weight of your favor
The verses are executed in black nasta’liq 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 16th or 17th-century Iran and placed later into an album (muraqqa’) of calligraphies.
The sound of insanity
Calligrapher: Munshi Ram (attr.)
Dimensions of Written Surface: 10 x 18.1 (h) cm
This calligraphic fragment includes four verses of poetry in Persian describing the simple mark and sound of insanity (i.e., the chain). The verses read:
Man u zanjir ka / Hamnala bi-rah aftadim / Dasht divana juda / Shurash u farzana juda
I and the chain that / Were walking and lamenting together / (that is what) causes the separation between craziness / and enjoyment and wisdom.
The text is written in nasta’liq script in white ink on a red ground. The lines of text are separated by green or blue bands decorated with flower and vine motifs painted in gold.
In the lower right corner appears the calligrapher’s signature: katabahu al-‘abd al-haqar al-anam (written by the servant, the most humble of mortals), Munshi Ram. This calligrapher may be identified with Munshi Ram (1737-90), a writer specializing in Arabic and Persian who was active in Radhanagar, West Bengal (India).
Quatrain for the loved one
Calligrapher: Hasan Shamlu
Dimensions of Written Surface: 8.3 x 16 (h) cm
This calligraphic fragment includes an iambic pentameter quatrain, or ruba’i, describing competition for the loved one. At the top, the verses are initiated by an invocation to God (“He,” or huwa), and its numerical (abjad) equivalent 111. The poem then reads:
An kas ka bi-dast jam darad / ‘Aysh u tarab-i mudam darad / Ma u may u zahidan u taqva / Ta yar sar-i kudam darad
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 nasta’liq script on a beige paper and are outlined in cloud bands on a background painted in gold. The text panel is provided by several monochromatic frames and pasted to a larger pink sheet of paper backed by cardboard.
The calligrapher Hasan Shamlu has signed his work in the lower right corner of the text panel with the expression “written by…”(mashaqahu…). Hasan Shamlu (d. ca.1666-7) was a calligrapher in nasta’liq script who followed closely the style of his predecessor Mir ‘Imad (d. 1615). Although works by Hasan Shamlu are rather uncommon (Mehdi Zadeh 1369/1950: 50-51), Mir ‘Imad’s calligraphies are well attested to in the collections of the Library of Congress (1-84-154.3, 1-84-154.43, 1-85-154.72, 1-85-154.77, 1-87-154.160, 1-90-154.162). Both calligraphers provide a continuum of calligraphic works produced in nasta’liq script in (Greater) Persia during the course of the 17th century.
Quatrain on true knowledge
Calligrapher: ‘Imad al-Hasani
early 17th century
Dimensions of Written Surface: 8.5 x 15.7 (h) cm
This calligraphic fragment provides an iambic pentameter quatrain, or ruba’i, written in black nasta’liq 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:
Dar khakh-i Baylaqan rasidam bi-‘abidi / Guftam mara bi-tarbiyat az jahl pak kun / Gufta buru chu khak tahammul kun ay faqih / Ya har cha khanda hama dar zir-i khak kun
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 spiritual teaching or tutoring (tarbiyat) from a wise man, who responded that learned knowledge is discardable. Baylaqan was a city in the province of Azarbaijan known for its purifying waters.
Below the quatrain, the calligrapher (Mir) ‘Imad al-Hasani has signed his work with his name and a number of diminutives, as well as a request for God’s forgiveness. Mir ‘Imad (d. 1615) 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 nasta’liq script, whose works were admired and copied by his contemporaries, and later collected by the Mughals (Welch et al 1987: 32-36).
Verses on the beloved
Munshi Ram (attr.)
Dimensions of Written Surface: 8 x 14 (h) cm
This calligraphic fragment includes four lines of Persian poetry describing the heavenly scent and life-endowing capabilities of the beloved:
Agar cha mushk-i az far khush nasim ast / Dam-i jan bakhsh chun buyat nadarad / Maqam-i khub u dilkhwah-st firdaws / Valikin runaq-i kuyat nadarad
Although musk smells fragrant / It does not breathe life like your scent / Paradise is a good and beloved place / But it is not as splendid as your abode
The text is executed in nasta’liq script in white ink on a red background. Blue panels decorated with gold flower and leaf motifs separate and frame the lines of text . Other monochromatic frames also appear on the larger sheet of beige paper backed by cardboard onto which the text panel has been pasted.
Although the calligraphic specimen is neither signed nor dated, a later note on the fragment’s verso attributes the piece to a certain “Munshi Ram.” This calligrapher may be identified with Munshi Ram (1737-90), a writer specializing in Arabic and Persian who was active in Radhanagar, West Bengal (India).
Another specimen signed by Munshi Ram is held in the collections of the Library of Congress (1-04-713.19.54). Judging from both specimens, he seems to have been an 18th century Indian calligrapher who prefered writing verses in nasta’liq script using white ink on red backgrounds.
Quatrain by Rumi
Calligrapher: Mir ‘Ali
Dimensions of Written Surface: 8.3 x 4.7 (h) cm
This calligraphic piece includes an iambic pentameter quatrain, or ruba’i, composed by the Persian poet Rumi (d. 672/1273). Written diagonally in black nasta’liq script on a white-and-blue marbled paper, the text is also decorated by four illuminated triangles (or thumb pieces) in the spaces left empty by the intersection of the diagonal lines and the rectangular frame. The text panel is framed by two borders in pink and beige painted with interlacing gold vines, and is pasted onto a larger piece of paper decorated with blue flower motifs. The verses read:
Saqi bi-ghamm-i tu ‘aql u jan raft / May dah ka takalluf az mayan raft / Shud tab u tavanam andarin rah / Man ham baravam agar tavan raft
(Oh) wine-bringer, because of (my) grief for you, (my) mind and spirit left / Give (me) wine so that (my) pride may disappear. / My patience and ability are spent in this way, / I too would vanish, if only I could.
The poet describes the wine-bringer (saqi) as the object of his “intoxicated” love. His abilities disappear “in this way” (i.e., in loving him/her), and he wishes that he — much like his abilities conquered by the effects of inebriation — also would fade away.
The text is signed by the “poor” (faqir) Mir ‘Ali, much as it is in a similar fragment in the Sackler Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C. (Lowry and Beach 1988, 355, no. 437). Mir ‘Ali Heravi (d. 951/1544-5) was a calligrapher in nasta’liq script active in the city of Herat (modern-day Afghanistan) during the 16th century until he was taken to Bukhara (modern-day Uzbekistan) in 935/1528-9 by the Shaybanid ruler ‘Ubaydallah Khan Uzbek (Qadi Ahmad 1959: 126-131).
Verses in Persian and Chaghatay
Calligrapher: Mir ‘Imad
Dimensions of Written Surface: 15.1 x 24 (h) cm
This calligraphic fragment includes a number of poetical verses in Persian and Chaghatay Turkish (Turkish spoken in Central Asia). A continuous Persian lyrical poem (ghazal) is written in the top and bottom horizontal rectangular panels, while another ghazal appears written in diagonal in the right and left vertical columns. Both ghazals are by the famous Persian poet Shaykh Sa’di (d. 691/1292) and address moral issues.
In the central text panel, verses in Chaghatay Turkish are written in black nasta’liq script on a beige paper which, like the Persian verses on the same page, are surrounded by cloud bands on a gold background. The verses in Chaghatay Turkish are most likely to have been drawn from the Compendium (Divan) of poetry composed by Mir ‘Ali Shir Nava’i (d. 1501), a powerful statesman during the rule of the last Timurid ruler Husayn Bayqara (r. 1470-1506) and a champion of Turkish language and literature.
In the lower left corner of the main textual panel containing the Chaghatay verses appears a minute signature by the calligrapher Mir ‘Imad, whose name (Mir ‘Imad Hasani) also appears in white ink immediately above the text page between two flowers painted on the green decorative sheet. The calligrapher’s name on the decorative frame provides an a posteriori attribution upon the mounting of the fragment onto a decorative album page. The text panels also are cut out and pasted together, hinting that the texts originally would not have appeared together.
The prolific calligrapher Mir iImad al-Hasani (d. 1615) was born in 1552, spent time in Herat and Qazvin, and finally settled in Isfahan (then capital of Safavid Persia [Iran]), where, as a result of his implication in court intrigues, he was murdered in 1615. He was a master of nasta’liq script, whose works were admired and copied by his contemporaries, and later collected by the Mughals (Welch et al 1987: 32-36). This particular fragment may have been executed in Persia ca. 1600 and mounted on to a decorative sheet for inclusion in a Mughal album of calligraphies.