Exhibition in Atlanta: ‘Islamic Calligraphy’

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on September 10, 2010

From The Carlos Museum (thanks to Courtney Barnes for her account at Style Court) . . .

Islamic Calligraphy and the Qu’ran, ca. 1600-1900
The Carlos Museum, Emory University, Atlanta, 28 August — 5 December 2010

Calligrapher’s storage box from Turkey, eighteenth century, wood inlaid with tortoiseshell (over gold leaf), ivory, brass, mother-of-pearl and bone. Private Collection.

The Carlos Museum will host complementary exhibitions showcasing exceptional masterworks of Islamic calligraphy and related objects. Islamic Calligraphy and the Qu’ran combines Traces of the Calligrapher: Islamic Calligraphy in Practice, c. 1600–1900 and Writing the Word of God: Calligraphy and the Qur’an, and will be on view from August 28 to December 5, 2010.

The exhibitions and accompanying community outreach and educational programs will celebrate the rich religious and artistic tradition of calligraphy, or “beautiful writing,” the most esteemed of the Islamic visual arts. The varied works of calligraphy in the exhibitions—from practice alphabets to elaborately finished manuscripts—serve as traces of individuals, belief systems, and cultures. The costly and exotic materials lavished on writing instruments also document the international trade of the period, from 1600 to 1900, and create a rich material legacy that fuses aesthetics and piety.

Approximately 150 objects and works from an important private collection in Houston and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums convey the elegance of the esteemed art form and reveal the skills of the many artisans—calligraphers, paper makers, gold beaters, illuminators, bookbinders, and metalworkers, to name a few—involved in the creation of the tools, the calligraphies, and the manuscript folios.

The practice of calligraphy constituted an expression of piety, as stated in the hadith (associated with the Prophet Muhammad): “the first thing created by God was the pen.” Calligraphy became a worthwhile endeavor for men of all stations and served as a permanent record of the calligrapher’s character.

Traces of the Calligrapher maps the practice of the calligrapher from the 17th through the 19th centuries both through examples of calligraphy, as well as through tools of the trade. The objects in the exhibition come from Iran, Turkey, and India, and include reed pens, penknives (used to cut the nib of the pen), and maktas (used to hold the pen during this process), in addition to inkwells, scissors, burnishers, storage boxes, and writing tables.

The fine craftsmanship of these objects is revealed in the exquisite and detailed designs, which often employ precious materials such as jade, agate, ivory, ebony, silver, and gold. Calligraphic practice exercises and fair copies are displayed alongside these implements, and a video shows a master calligrapher at work. Together, the objects and their output present a comprehensive overview of the intimate world of the calligrapher and the environment in which he worked.

Writing the Word of God is devoted to key developments of the Islamic scripts of distinct cultural areas, spanning from Spain and North Africa to greater Iran from the seventh to the 15th centuries. A selection of approximately 20 folios from now-dispersed Qur’ans from the regions will illustrate the rich variety and system of scripts.

The exhibitions were organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Harvard University Art Museums, and were curated by Mary McWilliams, Norma Jean Calderwood Curator of Islamic and Later Indian Art at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, and David J. Roxburgh, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Professor of Islamic Art History at Harvard University.

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