The Ottoman Period

Having briefly reviewed the scripts used by early Turkish calligraphers, let us turn to the development of calligraphy during the Ottoman period. Following the conquest of Istanbul, the Ottoman state rose to heights of achievement not only in the military and political arena, but in the spheres of culture and art. Seyh Hamdullah (833-926/1429-1520), who like his predecessor Yâkût (?-698/1298), came from the northern Turkish town of Amasya, began by following and perfecting the style of Yâkût. However, encouraged by his patron and student Sultan Bayezid II (lived: 1450-1512), he went on to subject the works of Yâkût to aesthetic scrutiny and incorporate his own artistic values, developing a new and original style around 1485. Known as the "Seyh Manner", this brought the Yâkût period of Ottoman Turkish calligraphy to a close. Ahmed Karahisâri (?-963/1556) revived the Yâkût style with unsurpassed brilliance during the age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, but upon his death the style fell into oblivion again. The Karahisâri school was inarguably superior in writing celî sülüs to the Seyh Hamdullah manner, although the latter prevailed.

Of the six scripts inherited from Yâkût, sülüs and nesih, which were especially compatible with Turkish taste, spread rapidly during the Seyh Hamdullah era, and nesih became the only script used to copy the Koran. Due to the paucity of rounded characters and the broad shape of muhakkak and reyhânî, these hands were gradually abandoned, until eventually they were used solely as exercises by calligraphers to improve their dexterity. As a result they occur in later years only in murakkaa (writing albums) in which calligraphers practised copying inscriptions. The only exception is the tradition of writing the Besmele (the formula bismillahirrahmanirrahim meaning "in the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful), which has continued to be written in muhakkak to the present day. Rika' evolved into a more appealing form which under the name hatt-i icâze was used notably by calligraphers to write their signatures and the diplomas given to calligraphy students. Tevkî', however, fell largely into disuse.

Seyh Hamdullah's successors devoted their efforts to imitating their master, and took this to such an extreme that the greatest words of praise a celebrated calligrapher could expect was, "He writes like the Seyh", or to be called, "A second Seyh Hamdullah". This situation continued for over 150 years. At last, in the second half of the 17th century, the light of a new master illuminated the horizon of art in Istanbul. This was Hâfiz Osman (1052-1110/1642-1698), who subjected the style of Seyh Hamdullah, whose writing was based on selected aspects of Yâkût's work, to a process of elimination, and proceeded to evolve an original manner of his own, characterised by relatively greater purity. The "Seyh style" now made way for that of Hâfiz Osman.

While the new era which he initiated in calligraphy was still in full swing a century on, Ismail Zühdi (?-1220/1806) and his brother Mustafa Râkim (1171-1241/1757-1826) developed their own styles inspired by the finest of Hâfiz Osman's work. Although sülüs had been used to produce masterful work, its thicker-lined form celî sülüs had failed to achieve comparable aesthetic quality. Indeed, the celî form was often execrable, and even the celî of Hâfiz Osman was not worthy of an artist of such calibre. However, at that time, no one had been able to do better. It was with Mustafa Râkim that, as in the case of sülüs and nesih, celî sülüs achieved a superlative excellence in terms both of the characters and composition that had never before been matched in any calligraphic style. He achieved this by applying the manner of Hâfiz Osman in sülüs to celî. Mustafa Râkim also improved the imperial tugras, which he carried to ultimate perfection. That is why the celî sülüs script and the tugra can usefully be classified into the "pre-Râkim" and "post-Râkim" periods.

Another master of celî and successor of Râkim was Sâmi Efendi (1253-1330/1838-1912), who applied the sülüs characters of Ismail Zühdi to celî, contributing a new manner to Râkim's school. The style of his numerals and the vowel signs and diacritical marks used in calligraphic istif or compositions is outstanding. Calligraphers such as his contemporary Haci Ârif Bey of Çarsanba (?-1310/1892), Nazif Bey (1262-1331/1846-1945), Ismail Hakki Altunbezer (1289-1355/1873-1946), Mâcid Ayral (1308-1318/1891-1961), Halim Özyazici (1315-1384/1898-1964) and Hâmid Aytaç (1309-1402/1891-1982) continued to follow, or sought to follow, this style of celî.

Mahmud Celâleddin (?-1245/1829), who was a contemporary of Râkim, adopted the manner of Hâfiz Osman in his sülüs and nesih, and by adapting it according to his own taste achieved a confident, fluid style of writing. However, when writing celî, his style becomes stiff and awkward. Although the great calligrapher and musician Kadiasker Mustafa Izzet Efendi (1216-1293/180 1-1876), his pupil Sefik Bey (1235-1297/1819-1818), Abdullah Zühdi Efendi (?-1296/1879), Ali Efendi (?-1320/1902) and Muhsinzâde Abdullah Bey (1248-1317/1832-1899) all adopted a style which combined the characteristics of Hâfiz Osman, Celâleddin and Râkim, it was their contemporary Sevki Efendi (1245-1304/1829-1887), inspired by Hâfiz Osman and Râkim, who developed sülüs and nesih to a height of perfection never attained previously and never surpassed since. His pupil Bakkal Ârif (1246-1327/1830-1909), Fehmi (1276-1333/1860-1915), and Kâmil Akdik (1278-1360/1861-1941) who trained under Sâmi Efendi are the most eminent representatives of this style. Seyh Azîzü'r-Rifâi (1288-1353/1871-1934) who studied calligraphy under Ârif Efendi made a major contribution to the spread of the "Sevki Efendi manner" after he was invited to Egypt, from where the style spread through the Islamic world. Hasan Riza (1265-1338/1849-1920), a member of the "Kadiasker school" and Kayiszâde Hâfiz Osman (?-1311/1894) were the last outstanding calligraphers to write the Koran in nesih script. The dîvânî and celî dîvânî scripts reached their culmination at the end of the 19th century.

Now let us see what happened to the ta'lîk script under the Ottomans. This script which had been used in Turkey since the second half of the fifteenth century rose to prominence after the renowned master of ta'lîk Imâdü'l-Hasenî (?-1024/1615) had demonstrated its potential. Turkish calligraphers took to this style of ta'lîk with such enthusiasm that it became customary to refer to calligraphers who excelled in it as Imâd-i Rûm ("the Imâd of Anatolia"). In the 18th century, Mehmed Es'ad Efendi (?-1213/1798), a remarkable calligrapher who was known by the cognomen of Yesârî ("left-handed") because the right side of his body was paralysed obliging him to write with his left hand, selected Imâd's loveliest characters as the basis of his own manner. In this way a Turkish school of ta'lîk was born. His son Yesârizâde Mustafa Izzet Efendi (?-1265/1849) set this manner on a foundation of detailed rules, and developed a style of celî ta'lîk in Istanbul which had no match even in Persia. Sâmi Efendi, who was a master of ta'lîk and celî ta'lîk, as well as celî sülüs, passed on this Turkish style in its superlative form to his pupils Hulûsi Yazgan (1286-1358/1869-1940) and Necmeddin Okyay (1300-1396/1883-1976).

As can be seen, a continual process of selection and refinement went on in the stylistic evolution of Turkish calligraphy, but without distortion of the essential forms. While western influence brought about a degradation in Turkish architecture, music, painting and decoration, no similar decline took place in calligraphy. This can be attributed to three factors:
1. The absence of a comparable art in Europe to exert an influence,
2. The continuation of the master-apprentice system whereby techniques and aesthetic concepts were transmitted from generation to generation,
3. The capacity of this art for self-renewal.

There is a widespread adage in Muslim countries to the effect that, "The Koran descended in the Hejaz, was read in Egypt, and written in Istanbul." There is no denying that it was in Istanbul that the Koranic scriptures appeared as works of art on paper. In the same way, the hadîs or oral traditions of the Prophet took their finest written form here, and the list could be extended. Divans and fermân, and carved inscriptions on marble fountains and tombstones were all inscribed with a beauty worthy of Istanbul's reputation as "beldetün tayyibetün" ("the most beautiful city") by calligraphers too numerous to cite by name here.

After this brief account, I will mention two scripts not regarded as calligraphic hands in the past:

Despite the close resemblance between their names, rik'a bears no resemblance of form to rika', which is the sixth of the aklâm-i sitte scripts. The rik'a script was that in daily use by every literate Ottoman Turk, and was written with a reed pen whose nib was a maximum of 1 mm in width. Until the 19th century, the style of rik'a depended entirely on the whim of each writer, but this situation ended with the advent of Bâbiâlî rik'asi, which was originally devised by Mümtaz Efendi (1225-1287/1810-1872) and used by government offices. The speed of writing this script was increased by means of simplifying the characters. Later in the century, Mehmed Izzet Efendi (1257-1302/1841-1903) developed another form of rik'a based on strict rules. Known as Izzet Efendi rik'asi, this script was subsequently adopted widely in the Arab world.
The script known as siyâkat was reserved for Treasury documents and title deeds in the Ottoman Empire. It was so extremely difficult to read and write that it could more accurately perhaps be termed a cipher, and was intended as a prevention measure against forgery. It was never employed with artistic intent. Calligraphy Illumination