Calligraphy is considered the quintessential art form of the Islamic world—Arabic letters decorate objects ranging from bowls to buildings. Numerous scripts have emerged over the centuries that serve a multitude of religious, political, social, and cultural functions. This unit explores the variety and versatility of Islamic calligraphy and historical efforts to perfect and codify scripts and generate new forms.
RELATED AUDIO FROM THE GALLERY GUIDE
Please enable flash to view this media.
Download the flash player.
Maryam Ekhtiar: In the Islamic world, and particularly in the Persian world, there is a very close relationship between the visual arts and literature, particularly poetry. The two really function together.
Denise-Marie Teece: So sometimes the objects themselves talk to us through the verses that they are decorated with. They might tell us how they were used. For instance, upon a candlestick, you might find verses that evoke imagery of light. And the poetry might discuss a moth being attracted to the flame of a candle. Or on a textile, the textile itself speaks and says: "There's never been a garment of such beauty. Look at me."
Maryam Ekhtiar: We sometimes have cups that are engraved with inscriptions that are mystical. And they usually refer to the wine, which is contained by the cup. In Sufi tradition, wine is a metaphor, it's actually a metaphor for love. Poets were elevated to the highest level in the court, and higher than the calligraphers and the painters.
Denise-Marie Teece: And, in fact, the imagery that is used to illustrate manuscripts oftentimes moves out from the book onto textiles, which might be worn as clothing, or onto tilework that would be decorating a wall. So in some sense, you are surrounded by poetry or references to poetry.