Situated on the great plateau of central Iran, Nishapur (Nišāpur) occupies an important strategic position astride the old Silk Road that linked Anatolia and the Mediterranean Sea with China. For centuries Nishapur was an important political and cultural center: a seat of governmental power in eastern Islam, a dwelling place for diverse ethnic and religious groups, a trading stop on commercial routes from Transoxiana and China, Iraq and Egypt. Nishapur's most significant period—the one this project refers to—extended from the ninth century to 1221, when, after repeated earthquake disasters and military occupations, the city was devastated by the Mongols.
Much of the history of Nishapur is reflected in the most durable of her remains: the pottery. Some 800 examples of this pottery are treated in detail in the present study, including exquisite creations of master potters and designers, utilitarian wares of many kinds decorated with detailed Islamic-style floral and geometric decorations and Kufic calligraphy rooted in Sufi practices and traditions.
Ceramics is one of the most ancient arts and industries on the planet. As early as 24,000 BC, animal and human figurines were made from clay and other materials, and then fired in kilns partially dug into the ground. “Nishapur”-style ceramics originated from 9th-13th-century Nishabur, Iran, a diverse ethnic hotspot situated along the East-West trading routes of the ‘Silk Road.’ The particular ceramics/calligraphy practices used in the ‘Nishapur’ style are important to this project, as are –metaphorically—its place along a global trade/culture zone, and its demise under severe, serial conflicts.
Nishapur is one of the first places in the history of Islamic art where artists and craftsmen used the artistic and aesthetic powers of Kufic calligraphy to decorate ceramic vessels-- creating a tradition that lasted over four centuries. The population of Nishapur was a mix of different faiths and cultures (Iranians, Arabs, Turks, Mongols), and-being at the heart of the Silk Road- merchants and travelers from east and west added to the cultural mix. This diversity is reflected in both the content and form of the calligraphic ceramics crafted there.
11th century Nishapur ceramic bowl, Iran
Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Arts, NY
Bowl with a bird and calligraphy design, Iran, Nishapur 9-10th century,
Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, SF
Since the foundation of Islam in the seventh century, calligraphy has been the dominant and emblematic feature of Islamic art. The significance of calligraphy in Islam stems from the importance of the words revealed to Prophet Mohammad, believed to be the word of God, culminating in the scripture of the Quran. Different styles of calligraphy, from the excessively stylized to the partly illegible, flourished in Islamic lands; and the hundreds of objects that contain Quranic or poetic verses in the Islamic departments of museums around the world, attest to the cultural significance of calligraphy. In traditional Islamic calligraphy, the transformation of words into beauty was inspired by revelations from the invisible world. The lead artist Arash Shirinbab works in Kufic and Thuluth, two of the oldest Arabic-Persian script styles. Kufic, the oldest form, was developed around 7th century in Kufa, Iraq and is seen on some of the oldest surviving manuscripts and ceramics of Muslim civilization.
Islamic Calligraphy Tools
The basic tools for calligraphy are: Paper, reed or bamboo pen, penknife, Makta, ink, Likka, and Inkwell.
The paper is better to be glossy or semi-glossy for least amount of resistance for reed pen.
The reed or bamboo pen is cut from right to left (27 to 15 degrees)
Penknife is used to cut and trim the reed pen
Makta is a small flat slab to position and trim the reed pen
Likka (silk fibers) are inserted in inkwell to absorb ink and control the viscosity of ink
Short Facts About Kufic Script
“Kufic” refers to the city of Kufa in southern Iraq. Although this style did not necessarily originate in Kufa, the name Kufic is commonly applied to the early scripts used to write the Quran.
Kufic and its variants were used almost exclusively among early scripts for writing the Quran and then on ceramics, tiles, coins, metal wares, and textile.
Developed in the 7th century
Used until almost the end of the 11th century
Kufic is mostly outdated today because it is difficult to write any text of length. It is occasionally still used for titles of manuscripts or in architectural inscriptions.
Angular letter shapes
Short, broad vertical strokes and long extended horizontals
Written on a horizontal baseline
Some early Kufic scripts did not use vowels or dots (diacritical marks) around letters.
Colored dots were sometimes used around the letters to aid with pronunciation
Please refer to these references for further information about Islamic Calligraphy and Kufic script:
Blair, Sheila. Islamic Calligraphy. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2008.
Mousavi Jazayeri, S. M. Vahid. Daneshnameye Kufi (Kufic Encyclopedia). Tehran, Iran: Abyaneh Press, 1384/2005.
Gholami Jalise, Majid. Pajooheshnameye Khate Kufi (The Research Journal of Kific Calligrphy). Tehran, Iran: Atf Publications, 1393/2015.
Deroche, Francoise. Islamic Codicology: an Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script. UK: Al-Furqan Foundation, 2006.
Gacek, Adam. Arabic Manuscripts: A Vademecum for Readers. Netherland: Brill, 2011.
Ma’navi Rad, Mitra. “Noghate atf dar khoshnevisi va ketabat az aghaze doreye eslami ta Qajar.” Maghalate Takhasosi-e khat va ketabat. Tehran, Iran: Sazmane miras farhangi va gardeshgari, 1374/1995.
George, Alain. “The Geometry of Early Qur'anic Manuscripts.” Journal of Qur'anic Studies, Vol. 9 Issue 1, 2007. Internet resource.