Tag Archive: Islamic calligraphy


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.

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Photos courtesy of Emily Ellis, Dr. C. Lance Harding, Ph.D., and Wikimedia Commons

My friend Lance, Dr. C. Lance Harding, Ph.D., came to the 99 Names workshop as my “ringer”–he knows so much about the uses of geometry in sacred art and architecture, I knew that he could answer any questions which threw me.  Luckily, he never had to pull out his blue mavin card and was able to enjoy the workshop.  With his insight and experience with sacred art from around the world, it was a pleasure walking with him through the exhibit Beauty and Belief:  Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture, and he was kind enough to share his feelings about the exhibit.

1.  What is the basis of your interest in Islamic Art?

While studying at The Visual Islamic and Traditional Arts Department in London (now called the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts), I gained an appreciation and interest in the concepts behind Islamic Art.  At our school we studied the foundations of Traditional and Sacred Art from various cultures.  I was interested in learning some of the basic principles for combining religious belief with works of art.  The simple basic concepts found in Islamic works of art gave examples of how this could be done.  First, the making of Arabic Calligraphy from sacred writings into a visual art form in texts and in their mosques was an important way for teaching the “Word of God” to the Islamic people.  Christians did much the same thing in their hand written texts and also by making biblical stories the basis of their stained glass windows inside the cathedrals.  The Islamic use of geometric pattern, that represented the order and power of God or the “Fear or Awe” of God opened up a whole new world for me in terms of representing God’s Creation.  The beautiful Arabesque (or plant form) designs that are a major part of Islamic Art add a further dimension representing the “Love of God” and the Paradise of God–God’s grace and love for mankind.

2.  As you walk through the Beauty and Belief exhibit at the BYU Museum of Art, what is your overall impression?

My overall impression of the Beauty and Belief exhibit is that the people who created these wonderful works of art were master-craftsmen.  They did not separate their art from their craft.  Their objects of adornment and their daily useful objects often became one and the same.  These works of art must have been used to combine what they considered to be sacred with the objects of their daily life.

3.  How does your background, both as an artist and as a person of faith, inform your reactions to the exhibit?

I believe that my background as a Christian, and as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has prepared me to accept the sacred art and teachings of other faiths and cultures.  My studies of art in other cultures in connection with my studies of Islamic Art has brought me to the understanding that all of God’s children have had access to divine inspiration and knowledge which was handed down to them either through their ancestors from God or given to them directly by God.  So, when I study and examine closely Islamic works of art, I see God in them just as much as when I examine Christian art or when I try to interpret Biblical Jewish art and architecture.

4.  Which piece or pieces are you drawn to most strongly, and why?

I am naturally drawn to those pieces in the Islamic exhibit that are derived directly from geometry and geometric form.  In London I studied ancient and sacred geometry and that was the foundation of ancient architecture and works of art.  I have always been interested in the basic order of the universe found in God’s creations as expressed in these types of art and architecture.  I see geometry and symmetry as the basis of all creation.  It is contained in all natural forms as well as being the basis of number, mathematics, science, and art.

5.  This exhibit is comprised of works made by artists who testify of their faith with every piece.  As a Christian how do you respond to this?

The concept of making art as part of your lifestyle has always intrigued me.  In the Islamic world they seem to have the ability to find the sacred in every day objects by turning them into sacred works of art.  This is what “Sacred” means–to make holy or to set apart and improve that which is routine in our lives in order to bring God into the scheme of things.  Faith is something that is meant to be put into practice every day in our lives.  Beautiful works of art represent and increase that faith.  As a Christian I see the basic Christian virtues of knowledge, temperance, patience, Godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity, along with consistency and endurance, incorporated into Islamic works of art.  (II Peter Ch. 1)

6.  How has this exhibit, and your work with Islamic art in general, informed your faith as a Christian?

The works of art in the BYU exhibit as well as the many other Islamic works I have seen and studied have given me the knowledge that there are certain universal principles that God has extended to all peoples and cultures, particularly those of the three Abrahamic traditionsJewish, Christian, and Muslim.  I have always been interested in the three Abrahamic religions.  Jewish and Christian teachings about God, related to the “Light”, the “Life”, and the “Love” of God, appear to match the three basic elements of Islamic art which are the “Word of God” (or the Light), the “Fear or Awe” of God (or the Life), and the beautiful Arabesque plant form designs (which are the Love of God).  I believe that the time will come as God’s influence returns to this earth, that Jehovah–Christ–Allah, different Names, but the true God of this World–He will unite all the children of Abraham and they will live side by side together in peace.

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