Department of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Calligraphy is the most highly regarded and most fundamental element of Islamic art. It is significant that the Qur’an, the book of God’s revelations to the Prophet Muhammad, was transmitted in Arabic, and that inherent within the Arabic script is the potential for developing a variety of ornamental forms. The employment of calligraphy as ornament had a definite aesthetic appeal but often also included an underlying talismanic component. While most works of art had legible inscriptions, not all Muslims would have been able to read them. One should always keep in mind, however, that calligraphy is principally a means to transmit a text, albeit in a decorative form.
Objects from different periods and regions vary in the use of calligraphy in their overall design, demonstrating the creative possibilities of calligraphy as ornament. In some cases, calligraphy is the dominant element in the decoration. In these examples, the artist exploits the inherent possibilities of the Arabic script to create writing as ornament. An entire word can give the impression of random brushstrokes, or a single letter can develop into a decorative knot. In other cases, highly esteemed calligraphic works on paper are themselves ornamented and enhanced by their decorative frames or backgrounds. Calligraphy can also become part of an overall ornamental program, clearly separated from the rest of the decoration. In some examples, calligraphy can be combined with vegetal scrolls on the same surface, though often on different levels, creating an interplay of decorative elements.
Department of Islamic Art. “Calligraphy in Islamic Art.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cali/hd_cali.htm (October 2001)
Blair, Sheila S. Islamic Calligraphy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.
Grabar, Oleg. The Mediation of Ornament. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.
Additional Essays by Department of Islamic Art
- Department of Islamic Art. “The Art of the Almoravid and Almohad Periods (ca. 1062–1269).” (October 2001)
- Department of Islamic Art. “Turkmen Jewelry.” (August 2011)
- Department of Islamic Art. “The Art of the Umayyad Period in Spain (711–1031).” (October 2001)
- Department of Islamic Art. “The Nature of Islamic Art.” (October 2001)
- Department of Islamic Art. “Vegetal Patterns in Islamic Art.” (October 2001)
- Department of Islamic Art. “Figural Representation in Islamic Art.” (October 2001)
- Department of Islamic Art. “Geometric Patterns in Islamic Art.” (October 2001)
- Department of Islamic Art. “The Art of the Mughals before 1600.” (October 2002)
- Department of Islamic Art. “The Art of the Nasrid Period (1232–1492).” (October 2002)
- The Art of the Book in the Ilkhanid Period
- The Arts of the Book in the Islamic World, 1600–1800
- The Birth of Islam
- The Nature of Islamic Art
- Vegetal Patterns in Islamic Art
- The Mantiq al-tair (Language of the Birds) of 1487
- The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp
- Tiraz: Inscribed Textiles from the Early Islamic Period
- The Age of Süleyman “the Magnificent” (r. 1520–1566)
- The Art of the Almoravid and Almohad Periods (ca. 1062–1269)
- The Art of the Seljuq Period in Anatolia (1081–1307)
- The Art of the Umayyad Period in Spain (711–1031)
- Chinese Calligraphy
- Enameled and Gilded Glass from Islamic Lands
- Figural Representation in Islamic Art
- Geometric Patterns in Islamic Art
- Glass Ornaments in Late Antiquity and Early Islam (ca. 500–1000)
- Indian Textiles: Trade and Production
- Modern Art in West and East Pakistan
- Nineteenth-Century Court Arts in India
- Nineteenth-Century Iran: Continuity and Revivalism
- Roman Inscriptions
- Takht-i Sulaiman and Tilework in the Ilkhanid Period
- Years Leading to the Iranian Revolution, 1960–79
List of Rulers
- Anatolia and the Caucasus, 1400–1600 A.D.
- Anatolia and the Caucasus, 1600–1800 A.D.
- Arabian Peninsula, 500–1000 A.D.
- Balkan Peninsula, 1400–1600 A.D.
- Central and North Asia, 1000–1400 A.D.
- Central and North Asia, 1400–1600 A.D.
- Central and North Asia, 500–1000 A.D.
- Egypt, 1000–1400 A.D.
- Iberian Peninsula, 1000–1400 A.D.
- Iran, 1000–1400 A.D.
- Iraq (Mesopotamia), 500–1000 A.D.
- South Asia, 1400–1600 A.D.
- South Asia, 1600–1800 A.D.
- Western North Africa (The Maghrib), 1000–1400 A.D.
- Western North Africa (The Maghrib), 1400–1600 A.D.
- Western North Africa (The Maghrib), 500–1000 A.D.
- 10th Century A.D.
- 11th Century A.D.
- 12th Century A.D.
- 13th Century A.D.
- 14th Century A.D.
- 15th Century A.D.
- 16th Century A.D.
- 17th Century A.D.
- 18th Century A.D.
- 19th Century A.D.
- 20th Century A.D.
- 21st Century A.D.
- 7th Century A.D.
- 8th Century A.D.
- 9th Century A.D.
- Floral Motif
- Islamic Art
- Islamic Art in the Early Period
- Islamic Art in the Later Period
- Islamic Art in the Medieval Period
- Literature / Poetry
- Persian Literature / Poetry
- Personal Ornament
- Plant Motif
- Qur’an / Koran
- West Asia
Artist or Maker
- 82nd & Fifth: “Getting Lost” by Deniz Beyazit
- 82nd & Fifth: “Poetic License” by Martina Rugiadi
- The Artist Project: “Dia Batal on a Syrian tile panel with calligraphic inscription”
- The Artist Project: “Zarina Hashmi on Arabic calligraphy”
- Connections: “Better Broken” by Navina Haidar
- Connections: “Writing” by Wendy Stein