Selections of Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Calligraphy

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Divan of Sultan Husayn Mirza

Calligrapher: Sultan 'Ali al-Mashhadi


Dimensions of Written Surface: 7 (w) x 12.9 (h) cm

Script: découpage nasta' liq

This folio includes ten lines of poetry from a divan (compendium of poems) written in Chagatay Turkish by the last Timurid ruler, Sultan Husayn Mirza (1438-1506). Executed in nasta'liq script through a process of découpage, the fragment belongs to a now dispersed manuscript possibly calligraphed by Sultan 'Ali al-Mashhadi ca. 1490 (Lentz and Lowry 1989: 262-71, cat. nos. 148-49; and MTIA 2002: 218-19). Two other copies of Sultan Husayn's divan dated 1485 and 1492 are held in Paris (BnF Suppl. Turc 993) and Istanbul (TSK E. H. 1636).

Sultan Husayn Mirza b. Mansur b. Bayqara was ruler of Khurasan, based in its capital city of Herat, from 1469 to his death in 1506. The city was an important cultural center, attracting poets in Turkish like Nava'i and in Persian like Jami, historians such as Mirkhwand, artists like Bihzad, and calligraphers like Sultan 'Ali al-Mashhadi. Many poetical works were produced both in Chagatay Turkish and Persian at this time. The ruler himself composed poetry using the pen name (makhlas) Husayni. His Chagatay Turkish poems (ghazals in ramal meter) were compiled into a collection called the Divan-i Husayni. The poems were published by I.H. Ertaylan (Divan-i Sultan Huseyn Mirza Baykara Huseynî [Istanbul, 1947]) and selections of the divan were made available more recenty by K. Eraslan (Huseyn-i Baykara Dîvani'ndan Secmeler [Ankara, 1987]).

This folio's letters are not written in ink, but have been cut out very skillfully from a blue paper pasted onto a cream-colored background provided with a marginal frame decorated with gold sprinkles on a blue ground. This découpage technique is known as qit'a, or literally a cutting out, and artists specializing in this technique were called qati'an (cutters). It appears that découpage calligraphy became popular around the last quarter of the 15th century, as Qadi Ahmad's treatise of 1015/1606 on the subject makes clear (Qadi Ahmad 1959: 17 and 174-94).

Although the technique of découpage emerges during the second half of the 15th century, it became a popular tool for the making of Ottoman kalips (calligraphic perforated sheets) during the 16th-18th centuries (Safwat 1996: 142-43 and 194). Other extractive calligraphic techniques also include painting a colored background and letting the folio become the internal coloring of the letters themselves (see 1-87-154.151 R).

Arabic calligraphy
Découpage nasta' liq
Islamic manuscripts
Islamic calligraphy
Illuminated Islamic manuscripts
Arabic script calligraphy

12.9 (w) x 17.5 (h) cm


Library of Congress, African and Middle Eastern Division, Washington, D.C. 20540

ascs 173