Tile frieze from the tomb of Buyanquli Kahn (detail), Uzbekistan, Bukhara
c. 1360, carved fritware with colored glazes
43.6 x 173.2 cm (17 3/16 x 68 3/16)
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Nothing is more characteristic of Islamic art than the
use of inscriptions in Arabic, which appear on the walls
of both palaces and mosques, and on a variety of objects.
A system of proportions governing the forms of the letters
and their relationship to each other was developed as early
as the eighth century. Over time, the rules changed, as
different styles of script became popular or fell from
favor. But rules always existed, lending consistency to
the art of Islamic calligraphy--the art of "writing well" in
the Arabic script.
The increased importance of inscriptions during the Islamic
period is intimately connected to the nature of Islam,
which is based on the revelation received from God by the
Prophet Muhammad. This was the Qur'an--the Word of God
spoken in the Arabic language. Muslims in each generation
made copies of the Qur'an written in the Arabic script,
and this use of writing to record the very Word of God
has given calligraphy its prominent status in Islamic culture.
Quotations in elegant calligraphy from the Qur'an and
other religious texts embellish Islamic buildings and works
of art. They are principally used in religious contexts,
as in the case of the tile frieze bearing a monumental
Qur'anic inscription that once adorned the tomb of Buyanquli
Khan in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. However, a wide range of secular
inscriptions also appears, many expressing benedictions
such as, "Good fortune and prosperity to the owner!" Sometimes,
the names of patrons and artists are worked into the calligraphic
ornament, as are quotations from the huge storehouse of
Middle Eastern poetry written in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish.