International studio — 81.1925

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mueRnACionAL

Small wonder that the calligrapher who had
such phrases to write strove to make them as
pleasing to the eye as they were to the ear of his
master. A new style of calligraphy, called divani,
was invented by the court scribes for this purpose
and the lines of these documents were often
written alternately in gold and in black. The
greatest art, of course, was lavished on the toughra
with which the scroll of parchment began. The
artist whose duty it was to make the toughra for
each of these writs was called the nishanji bashi
or Lord High Maker of the Seal, and his post was
one of the highest and most honored in the Otto-
man Empire.

What these master calligraphers of Islam
might have done had they not been so circum-
scribed by religion and tradition we can only
surmise. For, as the eighteenth-century scribe,
Ahned ibn Hassam, remarked: "In calligraphy
the artist can give only half of his art. One must
then double his esteem for a work of this kind, if
he would measure the full genius of its maker."

The work they did do with colors and the
brush hints that their fame might have extended
through the world had they been more free to
exercise their talents in the more widely appre-
ciated field of painting. For painting has long
been cultivated by the Moslems, but, like gilding
and book-binding, merely as an auxiliary to calli-
graphy. The picture in Islam was made to deco-
rate the caption, instead of the caption being
added to explain the picture.

Moslem painting reached its highest develop-
ment in the illumination of toughras and manu-
scripts. The best examples of this art may be
seen in the frontispieces of Korans produced
during the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries by
the Persians, Arabs and Turks. These pages show
a mastery of color, line and design which makes
them compare favorably with the best illuminated
manuscripts of medieval Europe, in spite of the
prophet's ban on images of living beings.

The Persians, it is true, disregarded this decree
of Mohammed and illustrated their non-religious
books with the miniatures for which they are
justly famed—but the Persian Moslems are con-
sidered heretics, anyway. However, at one period
in the tenth century—long before the Persians
learned from the Chinese the arts of making
miniatures and illuminating manuscripts — the
painter seemed on the point of breaking his
narrow bonds even among the orthodox Arabs.
For the Fatimite Caliphs who then reigned in
Egypt went so far as to have their palaces deco-
rated with paintings of dancing girls.

These pictures have long since disappeared

with the palaces and, but for one truly remarkable
feature they contained, the memory of them might
also be obliterated. It is recorded that sometimes
these girls seemed to recede from the spectator
and sometimes to advance toward him out of the
painting. The artists also amused themselves by
deceiving the eyes of members of the caliph's court
with stairways which, when one approached to
ascend them, proved to be painted on a wall.

These optical illusions, of course, do not
astonish us now; they will if we remember that
they were made by Moslems in the tenth century,
long before Europe learned this secret or any of
the laws of perspective. Apparently they were
sufficient to convince the Faithful again that
Mohammed was right in forbidding such images
as works of the devil; at any rate, painting in
Islam after this brilliant flourish resumed its
humble rank as the handmaiden of calligraphy.

Now, in Turkey at least, the rapid spread of
western ideas is reversing the tables. Those whose
talents would have made them calligraphers fifty
years ago are turning more and more to painting
and sculpture. And, of the sixty Turkish artists
who exhibited their pictures or statues in the fifth
annual Turkish salon in Constantinople last year,
only one carried on the traditions of the past by
painting miniatures and illuminating manuscripts.
All the others drew their technique and inspiration
from Pans or Vienna.

Abdul Mejid, the last of the Turkish caliphs,
was himself a painter of portraits. And the
Republic, which recently abolished his office, has
now ordered a statue of Mustafa Kemal Pasha to
be erected in Angora. It will be the first statue in
the history of Islam, and it is being paid for by
popular subscriptions among the Turkish Mos-
lems.

Protected no longer by religion and the state,
deprived already of many of its recruits, calli-
graphy in Turkey is now threatened even with
the loss of its means of expression—the Arabic
alphabet. For the more advanced among the
Turkish leaders demand that these letters be
scrapped and that Turkish be written in the future
in our characters. The latter, they urge, are
simpler, easier to learn, easier to read and can be
written with the typewriter or the linotype. The
arguments are strong; no doubt the change will
be made eventually.

Only a few hands are raised against it now—
but they are the hands of Mokla, of Yakout, of
HamdouIIah. The love for the beauties of the
Arabic letters which their genius has given the
Turks is the one great obstacle to the triumph of
the machine.

AUGUST 1925

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