Traces of the Calligrapher: Islamic Calligraphy in Practice

Traces of the Calligrapher: Islamic Calligraphy in Practice, c. 1600-1900 and Writing the Word of God: Calligraphy and the Qur’an

In Islamic culture, it is well known that calligraphy has retained its status as the quintessential art form, and that calligraphers have been among the most highly esteemed artists. “The first thing created by God was the pen,” according to a Qur´anic dictum, and the practice of calligraphy constituted an expression of piety. Acquiring skill in beautiful writing was an exercise that expanded into another range of values: calligraphy could convey the ideas of a person, by putting them in writing, and also record his or her moral fiber for posterity. Calligraphy became a hallmark of high culture, a trace of its maker.

Traces of the Calligrapher brings together exceptional works of the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries from Iran, India, and Turkey. Drawn from a private collection in Houston, the exhibition comprises pens, pen boxes, chests, tables, paper scissors, knives, burnishers, and book bindings of superb manufacture and design. These objects are presented with contemporary examples of calligraphy that were executed as practice exercises, occasional works, wall hangings, and manuscripts. The collection is unrivaled in the world, and only the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul houses objects of equal renown. The exhibition also features key works from the collection of the Department of Islamic and Later Indian Art at the Harvard University Art Museums.

Traces of the Calligrapher serves to reconstruct the intimate world of the calligrapher, bringing together the “tools of the trade”—works of art in their own right—and the exquisite manifestations that result from the utilization of these functional objects. The exhibition offers new insights into the environment in which the calligrapher worked during the early modern period of Islamic culture.

Exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston


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