I screwed up my terminology in the previous article (awkward), then I got sick and didn’t get this article written in time for last week … further awkwardness!
I stated this article would be about the Byzantine Empire — when in fact, I meant the Ottoman Empire; but then, come to find out after some research, that’s not really what I meant either as the scripts I was interested in outlasted the Ottomans….
Quick recap/history lesson:
We covered Egyptians and their hieroglyphs three weeks ago and then proceeded on to Classical Greece and the Roman Empire’s inscriptions two weeks ago. The Byzantine Empire was the eastern result of the Roman Empire’s split in 286 CE. The Byzantine Empire was a Christian culture with remarkable architectural designs and advances of their own, but they weren’t particularly keen on notable inscriptions. In 1454, the Ottoman Empire captured Constantinople, the Byzantine capital, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire.
The Ottomans were an Islamic culture. They repurposed many old Byzantine churches as mosques, redecorating them with Qur’an quotations and Hadiths (as far as I can tell, these are quotations of the Prophet Muhammed and his companions). As Islamic beliefs typically do not support the use of icons, text had become an artwork all its own in Islamic-influenced architecture. (Arabic, Persian, and the later Moorish architecture are whole new fascinating sides of architecture with their own rich histories I haven’t nerded out on yet, and I definitely want to in future articles!)
There are quite a few different styles of calligraphic writing used for Arabic scripts — every source I checked had at least one new form. Kufic script was the earliest, drawn from pre-Arabic Nabataean scripts towards the end of the 7th century. Until the 11th century, stylized Kufi was used on everything from Qur’ans to textiles to metalworking to architectural projects. Floriated Kufic featured flowers and leaves wound into the letters, while plaited Kufi featured elaborate knotwork. Because of its complexity, Kufic calligraphy began falling out of favor in the 13th century and is mostly obsolete today.
In the 10th century, Muhaqqaq (moo-huk-uk) and Rayhani (ray-ha-nee) scripts were developed. They are actually two different sizes of the same script used together. They have a very angular style that is more horizontal than vertical. They have also largely fallen out of use.
Thuluth (thoo-looth) script, developed in Persia in the 11th century, took predominance from Muhaqqaq/Rayhani by the 17th century. Thuluth is commonly familiar for architectural purposes — primarily because the older buildings still stand, and it is the ongoing script of favor for architecture. The letters in Thuluth flow and curve quite a bit more, along with featuring more accenting symbols around the words, called Harakat. Thuluth script is used on monuments from the Kaaba in Mecca to the Taj Mahal in India, and yes, the Arabic scripts in the Hagia Sophia that inspired this post are also Thuluth.
It is worth noting aside that there are also scripts that were never used for architecture, whether they were reserved solely for items such as royal edicts or manuscripts; developed for other crafts, such as ceramics and tiles; or scripts that exist because they are quick and easy to write in day-to-day life.
Arabic calligraphy is a form of artistry and communication that has continued, uninterrupted, for nearly fourteen hundred years since the original need to write the Qur’an down in book form spurred the creation of Kufic styling. With specialists still being trained today, that is a ongoing legacy of fabulous artwork (being) created. There are times a picture is worth a thousand words, definitely … for this article I focused less on words and more on gathering representations of Arabic calligraphy, enjoy the collection; a huge thank you to the artists that took these pictures!