Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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8 / Writing

Leaf from a Qur’an Manuscript
Leaf from a Qur’an Manuscript
Artist / Origin Unknown artist, attr. to Spain
Region: Europe
Date 13th–14th century
Material Ink, colors, and gold on vellum
Dimensions H: 21 1/16 in. (53.5 cm.), W: 22 in. (55.9 cm.)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund

expert perspective

Adriana ProserCurator of Traditional Asian Art, Asia Society

Leaf from a Qur’an Manuscript

» Unknown artist, attr. to Spain

expert perspective

Adriana Proser Adriana Proser Curator of Traditional Asian Art, Asia Society

Traditionally, the way a student of Islamic calligraphy would have studied would have been with a master. And after years and years of practicing, ultimately, a student is awarded a certificate and then can practice as a professional.

There are many numbers of different script types that a student needs to master first before they can actually go out on their own as a professional calligrapher. This is true in the Islamic world and true in the East Asian world as well that once you get to the point that you have really mastered a number of scripts, you mastered the styles of great calligraphers, then you’re at a point that maybe you can go out and create something out of your own. There are a number of existing standard kinds of scripts. When they become skilled enough calligraphers can actually play around with those and come up with hybrid styles that mix different elements from different places.

In the Islamic world, calligraphy is considered the highest form of art. It’s tied to the writing of the Qur’an; it’s tied to the fact that it’s a transcription of the word of God. It’s so full of the spiritual power and embellishing it in this way is a way of celebrating it. The Qur’an is a document that tends to be chanted. So in a way it really does have a musical quality to it and the calligrapher is trying to capture that sense of the spoken word of God.

One Qur’an would, in its totality, have been written by one calligrapher. It was considered an incredible act of piety to write out a whole Qur’an. It’s such an incredibly rich tradition. It’s certainly an art form that if you don’t understand it and you see it, you can still appreciate it as an abstract art. But it’s so deep in terms of the meaning and the history and what’s going on underneath those strokes or what’s entailed in the creation of those strokes.” 

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