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The Mastery of Calligraphy

During the late 1920s, early 1930s and 1990s the Library of Congress acquired a large collection of Arabic script calligraphy sheets. Almost all of the sheets were acquired from Kirkor Minassian of New York and Paris. The remaining sheets were acquired by the Library's field office in Islamabad, Pakistan, with permission from the Pakistani government to acquire and export calligraphic materials belonging to a Pakistani citizen. The approximately 355 sheets placed online are all the Islamic calligraphic items in the Library's collections, housed in the African and Middle Eastern Division.

'Ali Ra'if Efendi, calligrapher. Ijazah (diploma), 1206 "Bahram Gur in the Yellow Pavilion," 16th century

Calligraphy was a skill to be mastered, and it was heavily used to express religious sentiment and many other aspects of personal and cultural life. Calligraphic art developed gradually over the centuries and has been the subject of numerous studies analyzing its role in the faith, culture and art of Arabic-, Persian- and Turkish-speaking lands.

A majority of the calligraphy sheets in the collection are written on paper; however, a group of Quranic fragments from the 9th and 10th centuries are inscribed on parchment.

This collection showcases stunning examples of calligraphic art, including illuminated panels, albums and poems. In addition to the individual calligraphy sheets, this presentation contains essays on Ottoman and Persian calligraphic styles, an in-depth look at Quranic calligraphic fragments and an essay discussing some of the Library's notable Arabic script calligraphy sheets and illuminations.

This online presentation of "Selections of Arabic, Persian and Ottoman Calligraphy" joins other world history collections available on the Library of Congress' Global Gateway Web site. This Web site features the extraordinary international collections of the Library of Congress as well as those of its partners from libraries in Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands, France and Russia. The presentations for these five nations are bilingual -- in both English and the language of the country represented.

Global Gateway also makes available "Islamic Manuscripts from Mali" and other rare items such as "The Kraus Collection of Sir Francis Drake," "The Lewis Carroll Scrapbook" and "Selections from the Naxi Manuscript Collection," which documents ceremonial writings of the Naxi people of China, who write using the only living pictographic language in the world.

A. 'Ali Ra'if Efendi, calligrapher. Ijazah (diploma), 1206. This ijazah, or diploma of competency in Arabic calligraphy, was written by 'Ali Ra'if Efendi in 1206. The top and middle panels contain a saying (Hadith) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. African and Middle Eastern Division. Reproduction information: Contact: //

B. Calligrapher unknown. "Bahram Gur in the Yellow Pavilion," 16th century. This text describes an episode from the Haft Paykar (Seven Thrones) of Nizami (d. 614/1218), the third book from his Quintet (Khamsah). In this romantic allegory of love and frustration, the Sassanian ruler Bahram Gur (r. 420-438) visits seven pavilions on each of the seven days of the week. African and Middle Eastern Division. Reproduction information: Contact: //