Mysterious power of the pen


Since Islam frowned upon representation in painting and sculpture , artistic creativity turned to other plastic forms of visual expression. Writing is the oldest of these forms, and the most profound and esoteric.
Writing is the most abstract manifestation of language, giving material form to concepts, knowledge, ideas, and above all the words of God.

Writing the Kuran was a turning point and beginning for the Arabic writing system.

The kCifi script developed by Arab scribes in the first century of Islam was the first step in a process of seeking and development which was to last for centuries.

The holy scriptures were copied out over and over again , always using the Arabic writing system , but in innumerable styles in diverse places around the Islamic world. Although the words remained the same, on the visual plane each manuscript recreated them afresh.

Ottoman calligraphers carried this ancient art to its greatest heights of refinement, as reflected in the adage , ‘The Kuran was revealed in the Hejaz , recited in Egypt , and written in the land of the Ottomans.’ Ottoman calligraphy was not confined to writing the holy scriptures. Like painting or sculpture in other cultures, calligraphy became an aesthetic medium in its own right. When executed on a large scale, inscriptions became architectural elements of mosques, palaces, kervansarays, fountains and tombs.
The forms created by the Ottoman art of writing represent one of the most fascinating processes of aesthetic expression of Eastern and Western art history over the last millenium.

The scribe in search of the absolute


Ottoman calligraphers were bound to their art by a love that was almost mystic in nature. Both as students and masters they did exercises known as mesk (which in time also became the name for panels of these exercises), and these two concepts are joined in the Turkish expression, ‘Without love there can be no mesk.’ Students learnt their art through mesk based on examples given by their masters, and went on to use it to develop their hand and keep its dexterity. Me§k executed with love was the path to the holy, the divine and awareness of reality.

For calligraphers the strokes are symbols whose forms embody the mysteries of creation. In the alifs, lams, and mims can be discovered all existence, and all the relations of cause and effect in the universe. Since the word of God is written in these letters, then the scribe is obliged to explore all their complex symbolisms and multi-layered systems of meaning. His only materials are a little ink – usually made from soot, the product of fire – and a humble reed pen.

This simple pen carries the calligrapher to death – and to immortality. The celebrated calligrapher of the reign of Sultan Abdulmecit, Hulusi Efendi, saved all the shavings from the pens he used throughout his life, and in his will asked that his body be washed in water heated by a fire made from these.

With a passion of such dimensions was the miracle of Ottoman calligraphy created.

Links in a tradition of seven centuries


Most famous of all calligraphers were Seyh Hamdullah (d. 1520), teacher to Sultan Beyazid II, Ahmed Karahisari (d. 1556), Hafiz Osman (d. 1698), Yedikuleli Seyid Abdul-lah (d. 1731), and his student F rikapili Mehmed Rasim (d. 1755).

Seyh Hamdullah, great master of the nesih hand and at the same time a skilled archer, swimmer and designer of ceremonial costume, is regarded as the greatest of all Ottoman calligraphers.

Ahmed Karahisori and his son, the contemporaries of Mimar Sinon, bedecked the major imperial buildings of their age with inscriptions. I lasan Karahisari, described by Sinan as ‘the Mecca of calligraphers’ wrote the verse from the Koran reading, ‘Allah-yemsik-Os sernovati vel-arz…’ in the dome of SOleymaniye Mosque in mUsenna (mirror script).

In later centuries calligrapher Mustafa Rakim Efendi (d. 1826) developed the large-scale cell script forms, and was noted for his skill at placing the diacritical marks expressing vowels between the consonants.

Another 19th century calligrapher, Kazosker Mustafa izzet Efendi, wrote the great inscription panels on the walls of Haghia Sophia and the magnificent inscription in the dome.

The Ottoman sultans displayed a Close interest in this art, and Sultan Ahmed III became celebrated for his beautiful tu ra or imperial ciphers.

When a new Latin script replaced that based on the Arabic for writing Turkish in the 1920s, calligraphy lost its source of inspiration and went into decline.

Kamil Akdik, Emin Dede, smail Hakki Altunbezer and Necmettin Okyay were the last major masters of this art.

However, Emin Bann and some other contemporary artists have endeavoured to revitalise the art with new interpretations. Many modern Turkish painters have been fascinated by the ort of calligraphy and drawn upon its rich legacy.

Between pen and paper


The calligrapher seated cross-legged, supports the panel in front of him with his left hand and holds the pen in his right. After pressing the nib into the inksoaked raw silk fibre (lika) inside his inkwell, he begins to write.

Calligraphy calls for dual motion of the hands and skilled control of breathing.

As a result of hours, days, months and years of me*, the writing flows with incredible ease and lightness from the nib of the pen.
Everything is created in a brief space of time with the impetus of an inward turning and sacred intoxication after long and patient work.

Geometry of the point Our calligrapher can write in more than twenty different hands, in each of which the letters have different proportions.

The basic unit of measure is a diagonal point executed with the squared tip of a pen. In the sCili)s hand, for instance, the second letter of the alphabet, be, should be six points long, and its crest and tail should not exceed one point in height. This letter should be contained in an imaginary rectangle of specific dimensions.

Adjustments in size and proportion give rise to different styles and infinite potential diversity in the art of calligraphy. Like all traditional artists, the calligrapher explores the limits of his own liberty to create within the boundaries imposed by rules.
As he gains mastery of his art, in which he begins by following unwaveringly in the footsteps of tradition and what he been taught, he experiments with new compositions and new forms. This search is continued over successive centuries and generations.

Examples of Ottoman calligraphy, which goes back seven hundred years, illustrate how such experimentation brought into being creative works of dazzling diversity.


Ottoman calligraphy is based on six fundamental scripts or calligraphic hands. Known in Persian as the seskalem and in Arabic as the aklami sitte -both literally meaning “the six pens” – these scripts are sOlOs, nesih, muhakkak, reyhani, tevki and rikaa.

This script originated in the 10th century and is the prototype for all the rest, which is why it is referred to as Omm0-1-hutOt (mother of scripts). It is written with a reed pen whose nib is 2-3 mm broad at the tip, and takes its name from the fact that its proportions are based on three dots. It is one of the most widely used and graceful scripts.
Created by rounding lhe angular corners of k0f1, this script first appears in the 101h century. It is written with a nib about 1 mm wide, and is the script most often used by Ottoman scribes for the Kuran.
Similar to nesih and written with a pen of similar size, reyhani differs in that the horizontal strokes are straighter and longer. It felt largely out of use after the 16th century, nesih taking its place.
A script between kuf1 and sOlOs in style mainly used in official correspondence.
Similar to sOlus, tevki was mainly used in official correspondence.
Not to be confused with rik-a, this is a rounded and articulate form of nesih. Since icazets were written in this script it is also known as icazet script.
Scripts other than the aklam-i sitte, and some other calligraphic terms:
This was the script typically used in the early Islamic period for writing Kurans. It is named after the city of KCfa where it originated. It was rarely used in the Ottoman period.
This is a script with no straight lines, in which every letter is curved. In Iran it is known as nestalik, and its greatest masters came from Iran and Azerbaijan. Religious and scholarly books, and court documents were written in this hand.
The name for large scale forms of sOlOs and talik. Cell forms were used for large inscription panels in mosques and inscriptions carved on stone. The stroke width could be anything from 3-5 cm to 50 cm. The inscriptions by Kazasker Mustafa izzet Efendi in 1-laghia Sophia have strokes 55 cm in width, making it the largest writing in the world.
Derived from the Arabic word gubar for dust, and meaning ‘as fine as dust this is a term used for very fine and minute writing.
A script style resembling tevki and ft-1Hk used solely in writing ferman and forbidden for any other documents.
Ceti divani:
A highly ornamental, complex form of divani which is difficult to decipher. It was only used by the Ottomans and for important correspondence of the Imperial Council.
Another script used only by the Ottomans, siyokat resembles kOti and was used for title deed and land registry records.
This is a quickly written, practical hand favoured for daily use. This was the hand-writing taught first at school, and used for letters, petitions, and keeping records. Some people wrote this hand extremely beautifully.
A pen case with inkwell which could be carried tucked into the girdle.
An inscription repeated twice, once the normal way around and once as a mirror imaae, to form a symmetric composition.
Tu ra:
An imperial cipher usea as a signature by the ()Homan sultans. Tu ras were graphic works of art, often of great beauty. The skilled calligraphers who were selected to draw these ciphers on fermans were known as tu rakes, tevkii, or nisanci.

Calligraphic pictures


While the art of calligraphy was appreciated for its own inherent qualities by the educated classes, it was also used to form figural images appealing with more simple visual effect to the common people. Calligraphic pictures transformed a religious text into a mosque, a brief idiom into a human face, or the names of the Seven Sleepers into a ship. In this way the prohibition on pictorial representation was circumvented in an original and naïve way.

Calligraphic pictures could be described as the popular interpretation of calligraphy, and remain as much in demand loday as they were in Ottoman times They are often reproduced by modern methods and sold in provincial areas of Turkey.