Unit Two: Arabic Script and the Art of Calligraphy

Tiraz fragment

Tiraz fragment. Late 14th–early 15th century. Spain

After reading this unit, you will:

  • understand why calligraphy is the most esteemed art form in the Islamic world;
  • be able to identify the function and visual characteristics of some of the key scripts represented in the featured artworks;
  • recognize ways calligraphers use the shapes of letters to decorate objects and convey a wide range of messages.

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Calligraphy is considered the quintessential art form of the Islamic world—Arabic letters decorate objects ranging from bowls to buildings.

The written word acquired unparalleled significance with the arrival of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula.

Calligraphy, from the Greek words kallos (beauty) and graphos (writing), refers to the harmonious proportion of both letters within a word and words on a page.

The origins of the Arabic alphabet can be traced to the writing of the semi-nomadic Nabataean tribes, who inhabited southern Syria and Jordan, Northern Arabia, and the Sinai Peninsula.

With the arrival of Islam and the conversion of many regions, a number of languages adopted the Arabic alphabet even though they bear no linguistic similarity.

The first calligraphic script to gain prominence in Qur'ans and on architecture and portable works of art was kufic.

A new system of proportional cursive scripts was codified from the tenth to the thirteenth century.

Scripts have their own distinct function and history.

Calligraphers are the most highly regarded artists in Islamic culture.

Read in-depth information about featured works of art related to this unit.

A list of resources for additional reading, with grade levels indicated

A list of sources used to compile the information in this unit

Unit Two Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan: Arabic Script and the Art of Calligraphy Arabic Script and the Art of Calligraphy

Students will be able to identify visual qualities of several calligraphic scripts; recognize ways artists from the Islamic world engage various scripts to enhance works of art supporting a range of functions; and assess the merits of several computer-generated fonts in supporting specific uses.

Lamp stand with chevron pattern

The lesson plan related to Arabic Script and the Art of Calligraphy features a sixteenth-century lamp stand from Iran.