International studio — 81.1925

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medieval Christendom and with an alpha-
bet surpassing theirs in its artistic possibili-
ties, the Moslem scribes worked at copying
the divine word, pouring into the one channel
of penmanship all the talent which the West
dispersed among several arts. And thus they
have continued to work through the cen-
turies, for the printing press which long ago
supplanted the manuscript in Europe has
only in recent years begun to attack the
tradition in Islam which holds it sacrilegious
to print the Koran.

The Moslem scribe writes today as his
fathers wrote hundreds and hundreds of
years ago—the only difference being that he
does not write so well. He does not write as
we do. He does not use a tabic or a desk.
He sits on the floor and writes, holding his
paper in the palm of his left hand which lie
rests on his knee. How he thus achieves the
marvelous results he does I do not profess
to say. I merely state the fact.

He does not use a steel pen or a goose
quill. His pen and penholder are ah one and
he calls it a kalem. It is made of a reed or a
sort of bamboo which comes from Java, if it
is hard, or from the marshes of Babylon if it toughra, ok seal, of sultan suleyman the magnificent,

r ~. . . from a minor decree of I464. colored in blue, ruby and

is sotter. I he masters will use only the gold
kalems of Babylon.

He sharpens this reed roughly. Then, to bring alphabet. And where we have only two letters

it to the special point he desires for the work at to clot, the Arabs have a dozen most of which

hand, he pushes it into one of the holes in his can only be distinguished by the number of dots

miqatta and shaves it off. The miqatta is a thin above or below them. As if this were not enough,

flat piece of ivory or bone so delicately carved certain styles of writing require commas and "v's"

that is resembles a bit of lace. The carving has a and other little twirls to be thrown in purely as

purpose for the web it forms supplies the moulds ornaments at exactly the right spot in the open

for all the different kinds of points the writer may spaces between the tall letters. Needless to say

require. the precise proportions of each letter in each of

When he has worn his kalem down to a short the standard or classic styles was determined long

stub he throws it away and makes another. ago by their inventors.

Unless, of course, he is like that old master known To rebel against these rules may possibly gain

as Abd er Rahman ben Ali ben Mohammed el you fame after you are dead, but not in your own

Bekr, who added Ibn el Jauzi to his name before time. The Turkish calligrapher, Abdallah Vefayi,

he died at the age of eighty-nine. This descendant is my witness. He was a talented man. He wrote

of the first caliph long held the record for speed in with his left hand as well as with his right; he also

writing. He kept the stubs of all the pens he had wrote with his feet. This was heresy enough, but,

worn out and they furnished sufficient fuel at the what was worse, Abdallah did not like the letters

time of his death to heat the water for washing as he found them in the early eighteenth century

his body as the Moslem ritual requires. At least, when he lived in Stamboul. He invented new

so it is said. heads and new tails which he added to them and

In the exercise of his craft, the Moslem pen- in general he paid so little respect to the traditional

man is guided or, if you wish, tyrannized by rules, rules of the art that it created a scandal. The

It is not simply a question of crossing the "t" result was that Abdallah was sent into exile where

and dotting the "i." The Arabs, be it remem- he died in ignominy. Now he is considered a

bered, had a failing for mathematics and they master and the connoisseurs of calligraphy make

exhausted ah the intricacies of geometry on their pilgrimages to Eyoub to the medresseh or seminary

august 1925

three jorty-seven
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