Lascaux Cave PaintingImage from Wikimedia Commons

Lascaux Cave Painting
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Fifteen thousand years ago our ancestors recorded important, sacred events on a cave wall in Lascaux in France.  These and other breathtaking images, vibrant with vitality and color, are the forerunners to the art form we recognize today as calligraphy.  The transmission of knowledge in many cultures and faith traditions is considered a Divine gift and sacred act, so perhaps it is natural that the written form is developed to amplify and transcend its meaning, and those who design and produce these works are revered and treasured themselves.

The oldest writing which has been found is recognized as being preserved on Sumerian tablets, and Cuneiform is acknowledged as the most ancient written language.

Sumerian Stone TabletImage from Wikimedia Commons

Sumerian Stone Tablet
Image from Wikimedia Commons

From these beginnings, finger painting and labored marks, every culture with writing has produced writing artists whose work is still breathtaking, regardless of whether or not we can read what was written.  Some of my personal favorites include Mayan calligraphy:

Mayan Lidded VesselImage from Wikimedia Commons

Mayan Lidded Vessel
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Japanese Illuminated Stories:

Yoko Protecting His FatherImage From Wikimedia Commons

Yoko Protecting His Father
Image from Wikimedia Commons

And Western Illuminated Letters:

Den Haag Manuscript, Elkenah and WivesFrom Wikimedia Commons

Den Haag Manuscript, Elkenah and Wives
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Richard Beasley, instructor in calligraphy, drawing, printmaking and painting for years at Northern Arizona University, taught that the calligrapher must merge the meaning of the words with the visual impact of the visual forms.  “Whether we choose to use the word craftsman or the word artist, both demand equal pedestals because each is only one-half of a total human endeavor.”  (From Art of the Letter:  Richard E. Beasley 1934-1992)  The calligrapher’s art transcends the limits of language by transforming the performance of writing into a sacred act.

Chinese Calligraphy

European Calligraphy

Indian Calligraphy

Islamic Calligraphy

Japanese Calligraphy

Mayan Calligraphy

A Beautiful Pinterest Page

Friends of the Alphabet Resources

Art Bismallah Calligraphers

It is easy for me to get lost in the swirls and swoops, the abstracted and natural forms, and the crystallized mystery of the calligraphic arts.  Richard Beasley’s insight echoes from the works of calligraphers in any culture, and I find myself admiring the care, craftsmanship, reverence, and artistry of these many scribes.  This final image, though, is my favorite, a thousand-year-old page from a manuscript crafted in Northern Africa, the magnificent Blue Qur’an; it speaks its sacred nature to whomever views it, without us ever having to be able to read its letters.