Calligraphy Qalam: An Introduction to Arabic, Persian and Ottoman Calligraphy

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Ibn al-Bawwab
(late 10th century-1022 A.D.)

Full name:

Abu’l-Hasan ‘Ali Ibn Hilal, known as Ibn al-Bawwab (“Son of the Doorman”)

What he did:

  • Refined the rules of Ibn Muqla’s six scripts
  • Developed a system of proportional measurement such that each letter could be measured by its height and width in dots

Biography:

  • Born a commoner, the son of a doorkeeper
  • Began his career as a house painter, then became a book illuminator
  • Took up calligraphy, mastered the known calligraphy scripts, and developed a few new scripts
  • Was an imam in a mosque in Baghdad
  • Was a bit eccentric and wore odd clothes
  • Wrote a famous poem about calligraphy (see right)
  • Wrote 64 copies of the Koran, only one of which still exists (in Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library)

<< Ibn Muqla | Yaqut al-Musta‘simi >>

Proportional writing system using dots

Image of a circle with an alif in it

Excerpts from a poem on calligraphy

In the name of God, the
     merciful, the compassionate.
     To him is the voyage and the
     return.
O you who seek perfection of
     writing and desire beautiful
     calligraphy and forms,
If your dedication to writing is
     true, then be pleased that
     your Lord has made it easy.
Learn all the pens [styles], each
     one treasured and lively, that
     make the inky art like the
     jeweler's craft. [...]

Don't be ashamed by the
     ugliness you will write in the
     first stages of your practice,
Because the job will be hard,
     then easy. How often ease
     comes after distress.
When you have reached the
     goal you desired and you are
     pleased and happy,
Thank your God and follow his
     desires. God loves the
     thankful.
Be pleased with your hand,
     whose fingers write so well,
     leaving beautiful works
     behind in the abode of
     illusion. [...]