Keeping tradition alive: Calligraphy in spotlight


 DEC 31, 2021 – DAILY SABAH

Traditional arts reflect the cultural peculiarities and artistic senses of the society that they belong to. Passed from generation to generation, these arts include a wide range of creations from pottery to woodwork, stone carving and more. Turkish traditional arts are a collection of many crafts reflecting the rich mosaic of Anatolia shaped by the cultural heritage of different civilizations. How about embarking on a journey and going back in time together to learn details and stories of Turkish traditional arts one by one? We’ll start with the unique art of calligraphy, which is the centuries-old practice of writing letters of Arabic origin in a measured and proportional manner while taking into consideration certain aesthetic values.

Although this stunning handwriting, which has a deep religious association with the Quran, is not of Turkish origin, it is adopted by Turks during the Ottoman periods and improved in the hands of masters over a 500-year period. Calligraphy is named “hüsn-i hat” in the Turkish language. While “hat” means a line, “hüsn-i hat” implies beautiful lines inscribed with reed pens using ink made from soot.

A calligraphy work by Sheikh Hamdullah. (Sabah File Photo)
A calligraphy work by Sheikh Hamdullah. (Sabah File Photo)

The emergence of calligraphy coincided with the sixth and 10th centuries. First known as the Arabic script used by the Arabs, the art of calligraphy became the common value of the Islamic world after a few centuries and gained the qualification of Islamic calligraphy. Research on Arabic inscriptions dating back to the centuries before Islam has revealed that the Arabic writing system is a continuation of the adjacent Nebat script, originally linked to the Phoenician script. After its spread in Mecca and Medina, the Arabic script started to be known as Jazm and was divided into two main styles, namely the Maʾil and Mashq scripts. In the later period, calligraphy saw great progress in Iraq’s Kufa, and the style here was named Kufic.

The Kufic style was popularly used during the Abbasid period. In this era, vizier and calligrapher Ibn Mukle from Baghdad played an important role in the improvement of the art of calligraphy, developing a system that determined the main lines of writing with his efforts and innovations. With the disappearance of the Abbasids, superiority in calligraphy finally passed into the hands of Turkish and Iranian calligraphers. Iranian calligraphers adhered to the style of Abbasid Caliph Yaqut al-Musta’simi, who refined and codified six basic calligraphic styles of the Arabic script called “aklam-ı sitte,” while Ottomans established a school that is difficult to reach in calligraphy.

A calligraphy work by Sheikh Hamdullah. (Sabah File Photo)
A calligraphy work by Sheikh Hamdullah. (Sabah File Photo)

Considered the father of Ottoman-Turkish calligraphers in the 16th century, Sheikh Hamdullah brought different beauty to aklam-ı sitte, which is comprised of the calligraphic varieties Tawqi‘, Reqa, Muhaqqaq, Reyhani, Thuluth and Naskhi. During the lifetime of Sheikh Hamdullah, Thuluth and Naskhi from the aklam-ı sitte spread rapidly as they were suitable for Turkish tastes, and only Naskhi began being used in the writing of the mushafs, or written copies of the Quran. In the second half of the 17th century, Hafız Osman sieved the style of Sheikh Hamdullah and developed a unique calligraphy style of his own. Along with these two masters, among the Turkish calligraphers who created their own schools in calligraphy writing and contributed to the development of this artform in Anatolian lands were Ahmed Karahisari, Mustafa Rakım, Mahmut Celaleddin Efendi, Yesarizade Mustafa Izzet Efendi and Kazasker (chief judge) Mustafa Izzet.

After master calligraphers of the Ottoman Empire carried this art to its highest level, Istanbul became the center of calligraphy. This fact, which is indisputably accepted in the entire Islamic world, is best expressed in the following common saying: “The Quran was revealed in the Hejaz, recited in Egypt and written in Istanbul.” The Islamic world rushed to Istanbul to learn the art of calligraphy. The greatest works of calligraphy produced in this coveted city can be seen today at Topkapı Palace Museum and Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts.

Calligraphy works on display. (Sabah File Photo)
Calligraphy works on display. (Sabah File Photo)

Turkish calligraphists generally produced their own tools, including the paper on which they wrote their lines, pens made out of hard reeds and ink made with burned pine and linseed oil. The traditional calligraphy can be written on paper or leather, or it may also be applied on stone, marble, glass and wood, among other materials.

UNESCO recently honored the beautiful Turkish calligraphy by adding it to the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


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