Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

(ka LIG ra fee)

The art of writing letters and words with decorative strokes; a hand lettering style that relies heavily on contrasting weights in the horizontal and vertical strokes. Generally done with a brush or quill pen

Calligraphy is a type of visual art. It is often called the art of fancy lettering.  

From Greek kallos "beauty" +  graphẽ "writing."

Calligraphic works range from functional inscriptions and hand lettering to fine art pieces where the artistic manifestation may take precedence over the legibility of the letters.

Muslim epigraphs (an inscription on a monument or building) were executed in many different media: metal, stone, wood, gesso, ceramic, and textiles


Sacred Western calligraphy has some special features, such as the illumination of the first letter of each book or chapter in medieval times. A decorative "carpet page" may precede the literature, filled with ornate, geometrical depictions of bold-hued animals....

Islamic calligraphy has evolved alongside the religion of Islam and the Arabic language. As it is based on Arabic letters, some call it "Arabic calligraphy". However the term "Islamic calligraphy" is a more appropriate term as it comprises all works of calligraphy by the Muslim calligraphers from Morocco to China.

Islamic calligraphy is associated with geometric Islamic art (arabesque) on the walls and ceilings of mosques as well as on the page.

The Art of Islamic Calligraphy
-  Gardner's Art Through the Ages, Tenth Edition, by Richard G. Tansey and Fred S. Kleiner. Harcourt Brace College.  Pub. 1996, p. 339.

More  revered even than the art of textiles in the Islamic world is the art of calligraphy, the art of ornamental writing. The sacred words of the Qur'an, its verses (suras) must be reproduced in as beautiful a script as human hands can contrive and must appear on whatever material surfaces can carry it unsullied, from architecture to the fragile pages of books. The practice of calligraphy was itself a holy task, and one requiring long and arduous training. The scribe must be a person of exceptional spiritual refinement:  an ancient Arabic proverb proclaims: "Purity of writing is purity of soul." Only in China do we find calligraphy holding so supreme a position among the arts. 

As the language of the Qur'an established the form of classical Arabic, so the many scripts in which it was written fixed a standard of elegance for Arabic calligraphy and, later, Arabic print. ...

The esthetic achievement of Arabic calligraphy lies not only in itself, but in its perfect union with that system of Islamic ornamentation that... is known as arabesque.


Photos and their arrangement 2010 Chuck LaChiusa
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