To begin with, it is vital to mention that calligraphy influenced by the Quran was the most vital piece of Islamic art carried out between the 10th and 16th centuries. Calligraphy was considered a serious form of art among Muslims in several parts of the Islamic world. It was a highly revered and appreciated way of expressing art (Bloom & Blair 1997, p.130).
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Before 900 C.E, the Islamic population within the Arabian Peninsula had experienced minimal level of development in writing. The archaeological findings revealed that rudimentary scripts also existed. For instance, there were myriads of inscriptions that were made on pillars and stones. Moreover, writings were done on perishable materials found in various geographical locations. The papyrus and parchment were some of the archaeological artifacts that were found by archaeologists. These remains of writings were clear proof that the writing knowledge and skills were common among the Arabs during these early times (Bloom & Blair 1997, p.146).
Most members of the Arab world were also known to practice a lot of recitations, as learned from the Quran. Some of the artistic skills such as prose and poetry, were stored in memory and therefore were never scripted on any material. Hence, the skill of memorizing was the major hindrance towards the development of calligraphy and any other form of art related to scripting.
However, from the onset of the 9th century, the Islamic world was already experiencing immense passion for writing. This was also driven by the desire to record all the contents of the Quran besides maintaining its accuracy.
Kufi was one of the earliest styles in writing that was adopted in Iraq. It was shaped in the form of an angle. The Syriac and Aramaic predecessors were believed to be the key architects behind the Kufi script. It was later used widely in writing the Quran. In addition, both personal and official writings adopted the Kufi style from the earlier years of the 8th century (Bloom & Blair 1997, p.190).
In Madinah and Makkah, rounded scripts were used to express ideas and various levels of thought processes. They originated from the new Nabataean and Sinaitic scripts. Nonetheless, the Quranic manuscripts did not use this type of writing during the early decades. Ceramics, textiles, and buildings were largely scripted using Kufi.
Towards the end of the 10th century, the Iranian people used elongated vertical lines as a new form of scripting (Hillenbrand 1998, p.62). It was referred to as the “Eastern Kufi,” bearing in mind that it borrowed a lot from the original style of the Kufi style of writing. Its cetical strokes were also inclined. This explains why it was referred to as the “Bent Kufi”.
The next area of developing the original crude scripts was to make them more beautiful. The aesthetic value of the scripts was given additional concern in the later centuries. New variants of both the Kufi scripts and the angular forms were also developed by the early Muslims in a bid to improve the visual impression of the artistic work. Most of the Muslim calligraphers between the 12th and 15th centuries embarked on embedding additional features on the original art forms of writing (Atil 1981, p.87). Each of the newly developed writing features was named differently from other older scripts. Islamic historians believe that major changes in patronage were responsible for the transformation of Islamic art during these centuries. Some of the changes included the desire to have an accurate recording of the Quran, passion for visually symbolic scripting styles that could be appreciated by future generations, and also the changing tastes and preferences of Islamic artists.
Atil, E 1981, Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.
Bloom, J & Blair, S.S 1997, Islamic Arts, Phaidon Press, New York.
Hillenbrand, R 1998, Islamic Art and Architecture, Thames & Hudson, New York.