Arts of the Book: Manuscripts, Folios, Bindings
A Calligraphic Exercise
Ottoman, 17th-18th century CE
Materials and technique
Ink and gold on paper
13.1 x 27.3 cm
The art of calligraphy in the Ottoman world flourished between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. Students with potential were identified in their early years of schooling, where they were introduced to the art. Calligraphers had to obtain certification (ijazatname) from their teachers even at the initial stages of their education. During training, the teacher would provide the student with a model line of calligraphy that would be practiced through repeated imitation (taqlid) by the student. The present writing sample is an example of such a model or lesson, referred to as meşk. In the first phase of his/her training, the novice would practice different letter combinations; at the next level, words and phrases; finally, if (s)he completed the earlier lessons successfully, the calligrapher would practice writing poetic verses, hadith (traditions of the Prophet), and excerpts from the Qur’an (Derman 1998, p. 41). The meşk shown here must have belonged to an advanced student, as it contains the entire text of Surat al-Fil (The Elephant), the one-hundred-and fifth chapter of the Qur’an. The large script comprising the first line of the exercise - the first ayat, or verse, of this chapter - is written in black muhaqqaq script while the remaining verses are written in naskh; in Ottoman calligraphy, however, the general practice was to combine thuluth (sülüs) with naskh rather than muhaqqaq. Black and red marks were used to indicate vowels and signal pauses to facilitate recitation from the text for the reader, and were added last by the calligrapher. After the scribe had completed his writing, artists and illuminators would draw in ornamentation such as the duraklar appearing on this folio, which are the eight-petalled rosettes rendered in black, filled in with gold, and dotted with red ink. The exercise could then be mounted on a cardboard backing or placed in a muraqqa', or album, of calligraphy.
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