Art of the Quran: Early Islamic Scripts

Just as we can be moved by a song even when we don’t understand the words, we can have an emotional reaction to a script even when its language is unknown to us. Featured below is an 8th century masterpiece – a Quranic script from North Africa or the Near East. Here, black ink and gold leaves are used to produce lines of angled alphabets on parchment to stunning effect. The angled script is known as the Kuffi, an early calligraphy style in Islamic art.

Quranic manuscript written in Kuffi style, North Africa or the Near East, circa 750-800 AD. This script is a unique combination of several aspects of early Kufic calligraphy style. Most striking of these is its Mashq, or extension of the horizontal axis of the letters. This was a common feature of the Kufic style, but rarely practiced to such an extent as here.

The Kuffi style reached its zenith in the 10th century, after which it was gradually replaced by various forms of cursive scripts. From the 12th century on, scribes also began decorating their works with more ornate designs such as interfacing and fiolations in their pursuit of artistic excellence as shown in this next example.

This page of a 12th century Quran written in the Andalusi script is an elegant expression of the representational art of the spiritual world of Islam.The geometric interlaces of golden patterns with a black border are scattered throughout the text with decorated Arabic alphabet letters and the triple golden acorns which serve to mark the end of each sentence.

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