Thursday, March 31, 2016

Arabic Calligraphy

Arabic calligraphic scripts can be divided into two great families: the so-called rectilinear scripts (Kufic), and the cursive or round scripts. Although Kufic is too often presented as if it were a single, specific script among the rest, that is a mistake, and it can be only be reduced to a formula in an artificial way. To clarify this, I will briefly describe the respective history of these two families and explain their fundamental differences. (Note that all the names by which we designate the scripts are applied in retrospect. Period sources used them more fluidly if at all.

In pre-Islamic days, writing was known to the peoples of the Arabian peninsula, and a rudimentary Arabic script was in use. It was rudimentary because they had little use for it, being a culture with a strong oral tradition, and the earliest texts that have come to us show all the awkwardness of a system that hasn't yet found its legs.
Then, almost overnight, they found themselves in the possession of something that needed to be preserved not only word for word, but down to the pauses between the words. That was the Qur'an, and it required a worthy transcription, with Arabic acquiring a special status, being seen as the language God chose for His revelation. The letters of the alphabet were now magical beings since they were capable of holding and preserving the divine Word. 
round scripts

The round scripts are called in Arabic al-khatt al-mansûb, which is "the script that conforms, that is regulated". That is the main difference with Kufic: the round scripts are formal. There are very specific rules to write each letter and connect them together, rules to be practiced till the hand follows them automatically. 

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