A Safavid manuscript (Ādāb-e khatt or Ṣerāt-os-soṭūr) with margin illustrations
This manuscript has 8 folios and 2 fly-leaves in pink paper. Of elegant black nasta'liq with 12 lines to the page, arranged in two columns with double divisions. The calligraphy is in cloud-band on a gold ground, with chapters separated by gold cartouches. The text is framed by gold and polychrome thin borders. European style gilt and stamped green morocco binding. The opening page has an illuminated headpiece. The margins have both figurative and landscape drawings in sīyāh qalam style, and the last folio contains a single-page painting. The drawings are attributed to the Qajar period while the main text is believed to have been copied in the 16th century.
This manuscript is a treatise in verse named Ādāb-e khatt (in Arabic Ṣerāt-os-soṭūr, “Etiquette of Calligraphy”), composed in AH 920/AD 1514-15 by the famous calligrapher Sulṭān ‘Alī Mashhadī. Known as “qiblat al-kottāb (Beacon of Scribes),” Sulṭān ‘Alī enjoyed court patronage from the Timurid prince, Sulṭān Husayn Bāyqarā in Herat and was acquainted with Amīr ‘Alī-Shīr Navā’ī and ‘Abd-al-Rahman Jāmī. In this semi-autobiography treatise, Sulṭān ‘Alī recounts his childhood when he began practicing calligraphy on his own, after his father’s death when he was seven years old. He met Mīr Muflesī, who taught him Arabic alphanumerology (abjad). With this, his interest in calligraphy increased until eventually he began disciplining himself through fasting and practice, writing calligraphy night and day. After reaching the age of twenty, his name began to gain relative fame in his native land until he eventually reached a point at which both Turkish and Tajik students came to study with him.
The border of the folios depicts the event as narrated by Sulṭān ‘Alī. This includes two angels (fol.1v), Sulṭan‘Alī with an Old Master (fol.2r), Sulṭan ‘Alī’s Dream (fol.2v), Sulṭan ‘Alī Practicing Calligraphy (fol.3r), Sulṭan‘Alī and Students (fol.3v), The Prophet and Angels (fol.4r), Sulṭan ‘Alī Practicing Calligraphy (fol.4v, 5r), Procedures of Calligraphy Practice (fol.5v, 6r, 6v, 7r, 7v), Sulṭan ‘Alī Presenting His Book (fol.8r) and Portrait of Sulṭan ‘Alī (fol.8v).
There are two later inscriptions on folio 1r, both identifying incorrectly the text as Ādāb al-mashq by Mīr ‘Emād (where in fact the Ādāb al-mashq was composed by Bābā-Shāh Isfahānī). One of the inscriptions bear a date 1054 AH/1648-49 AD.
A copy of Ādāb-e khatt in Sulṭān ‘Alī’s own handwriting, is held in the National Public Library of Russia. The format of our manuscript, especially calligraphy, is closely related to the manuscript in Russia, suggesting it is highly likely that our example was copied by a student of Sulṭān ‘Alī.
Ghelichkhani, Hamid Reza. A Handbook of Persian Calligraphy and Related Arts, (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 25 Nov. 2021) doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004432895