A Brief Survey of the Turkish Printed Husn-i Hat Literature

Reaching its zenith during the Ottoman era, Islamic calligraphy was, during most of its history, bound by the master-apprentice relationship; except for exercise albums, written sources were the exception rather than the rule. However, the adoption of Latin script during the republican period interrupted this oral tradition and made it necessary to commit the orally transmitted knowledge to writing. This article reviews Turkish sources on calligraphy published during the Ottoman and particularly the republican periods. After the works of past masters. the most important sources are the exercises, alphabets, and ligature albums composed by master calligraphers. Although some have been published in facsimile, the choice of works has generally tended toward those of calligraphers considered most “evolved,” so that earlier milestones of the history of calligraphy have been neglected. In addition, some important treatises on calligraphy have also been published. Many treatises written between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries on the history of calligraphy, as well as biographical dictionaries of calligraphers, have been published in either Ottoman or Latin script. These treatises are sine qua non sources for studying the history of calligraphy, but it is time to go beyond artists’ biographies and focus on the works themselves, thus providing concrete analyses of the stages through which calligraphy has evolved, as well as the characteristics of these stages. Other books discussed in this article included calligraphers’ monographs, works focused on specific styles of calligraphy or textual content, calligraphy and architecture, exhibition and auction catalogues, bibliographies, and books devoted to paleography, restoration, and the implements of the art. It is necessary to complement the connaisseurship that dominates these works with the methodologies of art history and art criticism.

İrvin Cemil Schick

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