Arabic calligraphy has become a most significant form of Islamic art, especially considering that portraying humans, animals or plants is forbidden by strict Islamic rules. Writing, thus was not only a means of spreading the faith, but preserved a strong artistic and spiritual heritage over the years. Its value is both in the aesthetics as well as the content of what is written.
Although various studies focused on the history of calligraphy and its various forms, there was no comprehensive reference that brought together history, art and artists all in one. This new volume produced by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina is a first foundation to that effect; focusing on the period from 1805 – 1952, the era of Mohamed Ali and his predecessors until King Farouq - the last of his lineage before the 1952 revolution.
The book is divided into several sections, starting with style types. These are divided primarily into two schools: geometric and relative. The book gives examples of the various ways it was employed because calligraphy wasn’t just for decoration: it was used on buildings, book bindings, paintings on cement on paper or leather. The book is geographically focused on art in Cairo and Alexandria, where the majority of the pieces were historically produced.
Another section of the book includes the schools of calligraphy, its teachers and their evolution under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. They touched on the certification students earned that enabled them to work as scribes (before the printing press revolutionized the book industry).
Print houses and their evolution also had to be touched on.
A chapter is dedicated to the French Campaign by Napoleon Bonaparte, which included samples of the writings copied by French scientists from calligraphy.
The evolution and history of calligraphy is also analyzed in detail, citing samples of work during the time of Mohamed Ali himself. It then discussed the developments during the time of his grandson, Ismail, where calligraphy began its struggle between tradition and modernisation, with focus on the role of the National Library (Dar Al-Kotob) in retaining the treasures of these times.
Some of the most interesting samples registered in the book portray how calligraphy was used, including the printing of street names and house numbers. Unique styles and colours mark an important step in the history of the city and calligraphy
Diwan Al Khatt Al Araby fi Misr: Derasa Watha’eqeya (Arabic Calligraphy in Egypt: Documentary Study)
By Khaled Azab and Mohamed Hassan
Alexandria: Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2012