Calligraphy occupies a privileged place in Islamic culture. From the moment when it became destined to reproduce and transmit the Word of God contained in the Koran, it acquired a sacred function. But very rapidly it was also employed for decorative ends in secular as well as religious contexts. Metal bowls and vases, for example, are often decorated with a combination of floral scrolls and inscriptions which quote the verses of a well-known poet, express wishes of happiness and prosperity or list the titles of a ruler.
The Arabic system of writing, derived from the Syriac and the Nabatean, is characterized by a contrast between vertical lines and the horizontal base line formed by the links between the letters. The aesthetic potential of this system was exploited very early on and a large range of different scripts has evolved over the centuries. New styles are created by altering the various components of each letter, either by extending or shortening the base line, by varying the slope of the vertical strokes, or by changing the curve of the loops which descend below the horizontal line. But calligraphers are not entirely free to play around as they wish with these elements and are restrained by very strict stylistic rules.
Among the numerous calligraphic styles which have developed, some are more common than others. A first very important category covers the so-called Kufic scripts, which are very angular and are used mainly in religious contexts, such as for reproductions of the Koran and for inscriptions in mosques. Among the different variants are floral Kufic (al-kufi al-mukhamal), in which the inscription is set against a background of leaf and flower arabesques, and square Kufic (al-kufi al-handâsi or ma’qeli), which avoids all curved lines.
The non-Kufic scripts are sometimes called cursive. Naskh, which has a very regular and balanced appearance, has been widely used as an everyday writing style and for reproducing books. Thulth, on the other hand, has rounded letters, and may be written in lines so close to one another that elements of the letters intersect. This is a difficult style to master and requires a great deal of practice. From the 11th century, Persian calligraphers developed a new cursive style known as Ta'liq, which made use of elements from other styles including Naskh. Later, a variant of this style called Nasta'liq was created which rapidly became one of the most popular ones in Iran. This style is characterised by the extension of the horizontal lines and by a perfect balance between these and the vertical or rounded elements. The elegance and lightness of the words on the page make it an ideal complement to a painting or book illustration.
The Ma'qeli Kufic style, composed only of straight lines. The b1ue tiles repeat the name of God to infinity. (Imâmzâdch Mahruq, Neishâbur)
A modern example of Shikastah Ta'liq, a sty1e designed for rapid writing which was most1y used in the Persian administration but was gradually replaced by Nasta'liq, (Mausoleum of Omar Khayyam Neishâbur).
Thulth is frequently used Jn the decoration of mosques; the best examples are those of the Safavid calligrapher Ali Reza Abbassi, which, can be seen in Isfahan and Mashhad.
(Imâmzâdeh Mahruq, Neishâbur)
Guidance and the National Museum of Art (muzeh-ye Honarhâ-ye Melli, entrance on Kemâl al-Mulk Street) which houses a very complete collection of Iranian art and handicrafts: marquetry (khâtam), miniatures, brocades, ceramics and mosaics. Open from 8 am to 3.30 pm, closed Thursdays and Fridays (tel 3116329).
To the east of the square is the Shâhid Motahari Mosque (ex-Sepahsâlâr Mosque). Originally a madresseh, it was built between 1878 and 1890 and is one of the most successful examples of late Qâjâr architecture. Today, the building once again serves as a madresseh and is therefore closed to the public, but one may still see the tilework decoration of the exterior walls with its floral motifs and figures so characteristic of Qâjâr art.