The Turkish contribution to calligraphy

No early Turkish manuscripts dating from the period previous to their conversion to Islam and adoption of the Arabic script as a direct result have survived to the present day. The earliest manuscripts date from the Seljuks (eleventh to thirteenth centuries). During the Anatolian Seljuk period, the use of kuf for manuscripts was largely abandoned in favour of aklâm-i sitte, the "six scripts". From this point onwards kuf script was reserved largely for book titles and architectural application in decorative forms, either floriate, foliate or interlaced. In its architectural application a geometrical variety of kuf known as satranli or murabba'li kuf, and in some sources as ma'kil or bennâ was also used.

During the Beylik period of independent Turkish principalities which succeeded the Seljuks and the first two centuries of the Ottoman Empire, calligraphy in Anatolia appears to be a continuation of the Abbasid Baghdad school. The Turkish calligrapher Seyh Hamdullah (833-926/1429-1520) marks the beginning of Ottoman predominance in calligraphy, and thereafter the art followed a course of continual development until the twentieth century. Before going on to discuss the great masters who contributed to the evolution of this art, the scripts or "hands" used in Ottoman calligraphy will be described.

The six scripts covered by this name can be treated in three groups, each consisting of two related scripts: Sls-nesih, muhakkak-reyhân, and tevk'-rika'. The first in each of these groups (sls, muhakkak, and tevk) are written with broad-nibbed pens (around 2 mm), while the second (nesih, reyhân and rika') are written with pens whose nib is around 1 mm wide. Where the form of the characters is concerned, muhakkak and tevk' are larger scale versions of reyhân and rika' respectively. Sls and nesih, however, diverge substantially in form as well as scale, as will be seen in the illustrations. The very fine version of nesih is called gubâr ("like dust") because it appears as small as motes of dust.
Of all the aklâm-i sitte scripts, sls, which is termed mm'l-hat ("the mother of writing") in historical sources, is the most amenable to artistic application. The rounded and taut style of the characters gives the greatest scope to calligraphers where variety of form and the creation of decorative compositions are concerned. These features are particularly striking in the case of cel sls, whether written with a very broad nibbed pen or enlarged by means of squaring, which is used for inscriptions on monuments so that they are legible from a distance. The word cel means "large" or "obvious". The cursive form of sls or cel sls in which the words or groups of letters are joined is known as mselsel and the device whereby a word or group of words are written twice as a symmetrical mirror image interlocking down the centre is known as msennâ. Both types have been widely used.
Although the characters of nesih are curved, they must invariably be arranged in lines, so are not appropriate for calligraphic compositions. Nesih has most often been used for writing long texts, above all the Koran, and the first typeface used by Turkish printers was nesih. Muhakkak and reyhân were also suited to arrangement in lines due to the predominance of straight lines in the characters. Until the sixteenth century, large size korans were written in muhakkak, and smaller korans in reyhân. The related tevk' and rika' scripts were mainly reserved for official correspondence during early Ottoman times, and only rarely for copying manuscripts. These six scripts can take the hareke vowel signs and diacritical marks used in Arabic, although in writing Turkish, the nesih, tevk' and rika' scripts are sometimes written without vowel signs.
Ta'lk is the name given to a version of tevk' originating in fourteenth century Persia, where it was mostly used in official documents. Later on a quite different script named nesh-i ta'lk because it superseded ta'lk emerged, and in time this name became corrupted to the more easily pronounced nes-ta'lk. This script appears in Istanbul in the second half of the fifteenth century under the name ta'lk, having dropped the "nes", but confusingly has no relation to the original script of that name. This graceful, delicately formed script written without vowel points which as in the case of Persian were unnecessary in Turkish had a light and poetical air compared to the heavy, grandiose style of sls. The form of Ottoman ta'lk script known as hurde ("small") or haf was used for literary works and collections of poetry (divan), and was also the official hand used for writing fetva (opinions on canonical points of law). Cel ta'lk was the most common cel script used on Ottoman monuments after cel sls. Regular sized ta'lk written with a 2 mm pen was largely used for writing kit'a.
The ta'lk script used for official correspondence in Persia was introduced to Ottoman Turkey by the Akkoyunlular (1467-1501) during the fifteenth century. Under the Ottomans, ta'lk underwent a radical change of form within a brief period, and under this new guise became known as dvân in reference to its use in the official documents of the Dvân-i Hmâyun (Council of State). Although dvân was written without vowel signs, the ornate and imposing variety known as cel dvân which originated in Istanbul in the sixteenth century was written with vowel signs. Cel dvân was used in high level state correspondence, and contrary to other scripts designated by the term cel, the term did not mean that it was large in size, but indicated its important status. Both forms of this script required considerable skill to read and write, and it was almost impossible to add extra letters or words, so the use of dvân and cel dvân for official papers made it easier to keep state affairs confidential and prevented fraudulent alteration. Both scripts are written in lines which curve up towards the end.
The tugra was the imperial Ottoman cipher or monogram used to authenticate documents of state, used instead of the sultan's signature. The earliest example was the simple tugra of Sultan Orhan Gazi (1334-1362). The monogram consisted of the sultan's name, his patronymic, and the invocation "el muzaffer dâima" ("Ever victorious"). The principal elements of the tugra consist of the krs or sere (the monogram proper), tug (the shafts), zlfe (dependent sweeps from the tug), inner and outer beyza (loops), and haner or kol (pincer-like projections). In the sixteenth century the tugra was usually illuminated, but although the intricate decoration declined over the centuries, its form reached its aesthetic culmination through the genius of Mustafa Râkim (1121-1241/1757-1826) during the reign of Selim III (1789-1807) and later the artistic power of Sâmi Efendi (1253-1330/1838-1912). Tugras consisting of the names of dervish saints, a verse of the Koran, or a hads (oral tradition of the Prophet) are also encountered.