New Essay on Insights — “Dating Mamluk Manuscripts from Levantine Collections” by Sarah Islam

23 January 2024

An important clue when attempting to identify the era and region in which a manuscript was produced is the style of handwriting or calligraphy used by the scribe or copyist and, in relevant instances, to what degree manuscript illumination influenced the lined text. Tenth-century Persian ‘Abbasid vizier Ibn Muqla (d. AD 940), who was both a high-level bureaucrat and famed calligrapher, played a significant role in canonizing and recording the history of the evolution of Arabic calligraphic styles (Safadi 1970: 17). We know from Ibn Muqla that, by the 10th century, six Arabic scripts had come to dominate Islamic calligraphy in the Muslim world: thuluth, naskh, muḥaqqaq, rayḥān, riqʿa, and tawqiʿ (Mansour 2011: 49–51). Yāqūt al-Mustaʿṣimī (d. AD 1298), the mamlūk of al-Mustaʿṣim, last ʿAbbasid caliph to rule from Baghdad, left his mark on script canonization as well by inventing new ways to cut reed writing instruments in such a way as to gain greater precision in strokes of the brush and pen. This increased precision allowed calligraphers to sharpen the ornamental distinctions between each style even more than was previously possible (Safadi 1970: 18) (Fig. 2).

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