Imagine training for 20-25 years before you were ever allowed to take up a real brush and paint? Filling in and tracing the familiar lines day in and day out for decades just to finally be called a master calligrapher!
At its height, the Ottoman Empire was famous for its exquisite calligraphy and religious illustrations and most intricate visual storytelling, but rarely did the master artisan leave a trace of his identity. Work was done at a workshop with every piece of parchment gradually passing through 4-5 masters before its inclusion in a book. So it’s that much more amazing that history preserved the name of Ahmed Karahisari, the 15-16th century master calligrapher, who created this exquisite artwork on tile.
Given that most tile calligraphy was produced for religious institutions we can safely assume that this example of Islamic Calligraphy is an excerpt from the Quran and was intended for a Mosque. What’s interesting about this particular artwork is that the blue in this tile is derived directly from earlier Chinese pottery. Medieval Islamic craftsmen appropriated many of their artistic techniques from the Chinese and this was no exception. Look at the repetitive vegetal arabesques that make up the border around the text. These are stylized lotus flowers, also borrowed from Chinese iconography. And if you look closer you will see that the master tinted the corner tiles with a light blue, in an effort to add volume to the composition.
There are many styles of Islamic Calligraphy, including the Kufic script – a blocky and angular style often seen incorporated into geometric forms. Thuluth, where one-third of each letter slopes, a simple cursive style called Naskhi, and the Diwani style, used during the reign of the Ottoman Turks in the 16-17th centuries and many others.
Karahisari’s most important work is the Quran which he penned for Suleiman the Magnificent (reigned 1520-1566). Today it can be seen at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
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