Incredibly elaborate Ottoman calligraphy drawn on dried leaves

The study of Islamic calligraphy is “almost inexhaustible,” begins German-born Harvard professor Annemarie Schimmel. Islamic calligraphy and culture, “considering the different types of Arabic script and the extension of Islamic culture” across the Arabian Peninsula, Persia, Africa and the Ottoman Empire. The first calligraphic script, called Hijāzī, would come from the Hijaz region, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad himself. Another version called Kufi“one of the earliest extant Islamic scripts”, developed and flourished in the “Abbasid Baghdad”, Anchi Hoh written for the Library of Congress“a major center of culture and learning in classical Islamic times”.

Despite the long and venerable history of calligraphy in the Islamic world, there are good reasons to say that the Quran was “revealed in Mecca, recited in Egypt and written in Istanbul”. The Ottomans refined Arabic calligraphy to its highest degree, bringing the art into a “golden age…unseen since the Abbasid era”, writes Hoh.

“Ottoman calligraphers adopted [master Abbasid calligrapher] the six styles of Ibn Muqlah and raised them to new heights of beauty and elegance. One of the heights of this refinement is found here in these delicately preserved dead leaves covered with golden Arabic writing.

This particular application of art is, it goes without saying, “a difficult and delicate work”, say the notes on one of these sheets at the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore:

The sheet should be dried and the tissue should be slowly removed in order to leave the skeletal membrane. The composition stencil is placed behind the foil and gold ink with gum arabic is applied to it. This art of calligraphy on a dried leaf was one of the most practiced in Ottoman Turkey in the 19th century. During this period, Ottoman calligraphers were interested in producing compositions in the form of fruits, animals, and even inanimate objects like ships and houses.

The examples here come from a Bayt Al Fann Twitter feeda collective of artists “exploring art and culture inspired by Islamic tradition”. The you can find many more elaborate examples, translations and descriptions of calligraphic writing – usually verses from the Quran, prayers from Hadith and poetry. Learn more about Islamic calligraphy in Schimmel’s book; in his newsletter “Islamic Calligraphy” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Barbara Rivolta (free here); and in Hoh’s Library of Congress three-part series here. And find out how Turkish calligraphers love Nick Merdenian and Saliha Aktas have reinvented art in the 21st century….

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him on @jdmagness

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