KEY WORDS AND IDEAS
Calligraphy (thuluth, naskh, and ghubari scripts), calligram (calligraphic image), Ottoman empire, poetry, talisman, ink
LINK TO THE THEME OF THIS UNIT
This calligraphic drawing (calligram) of a ship at sea exemplifies one of the most innovative artistic genres developed by Ottoman calligraphers while also conveying an important religious message.
The combination of Qur'anic verses, prayers, and poetry venerating the Prophet renders this calligram an object of talismanic devotional power.
The prow, deck, hull, and stern of the ship are formed by a gilded calligraphic inscription that names the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, as well as their dog Qitmir (see Context, below). On the stern, the Throne verse from the Qur'an (2:255) acknowledges God's power to protect and preserve everything in his kingdom. The verse is believed to have the power to avert evil. Below the distinctive imperial emblem or insignia (tughra; see also image 23) on the stern is a dedication to the Ottoman sultan Mustafa III (reigned 1757–74). Calligraphy dominates the composition; even the waves in the scene contain aphorisms in a minute script whose name, ghubar, means "dustlike."
Calligrams were especially popular in Ottoman art; many were made in the form of lions, storks, peacocks, mosques, and ships.
The imagery and text featured here derive from the story of the Seven Sleepers—a legend dating back to pre-Islamic times that became a metaphor for divine protection. The story, included in passage 18:9–25 of the Qur'an, took place in Ephesus (a town in present-day Turkey). Three Christian youths fled a pagan town and were later joined by four others and a dog. Determined to punish the fugitives for not respecting the pagan gods, the ruler set after the youths. The seven men and their dog found refuge in a cave, where they fell asleep. God ordered the angels of death to take their souls until the danger had passed. Three hundred and nine years later, God breathed life into them again.
The image of the ship also carries symbolic meaning. In illustrated manuscripts and written sources, the Islamic faith is sometimes represented as a ship in a stormy sea. According to religious sources, if a ship was inscribed with the names of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, it would not sink.