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Kufic Script



The history of calligraphy in the Islamic world begins with Kufic writing, distinguished by its angular letters and lack of diacritical marks on broad sheets of vellum. This script was named after the city of Kufa in Iraq, where it is said to have been invented and it is claimed that the fourth Calif of Islam (the Prophet's cousin), was the first to write in Kufic scrip.

Early Kufic Script

Early Kufic script. The vowels are indicated in red and the diacritical points by short black strokes.

As Kufic reached perfection, it superseded other earlier attempts of improving calligraphy, and became the only script used for copying the Holy Koran for the next three hundred years.

Among the different variants are square Kufic (that avoided all curved lines) and floral/ foliated Kufic.

Kufic Script, early Kufic, square Kufic and eastern Kufic

'In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate'
Top: early Kufic
Middle: square Kufic
Bottom: eastern Kufic

Square Kufic

The Ma'qeli Kufic style, composed only of straight lines. The blue tiles repeat the name of God ("Allah") to infinity.
Imamzadeh Mahruq, Neishabur.

Foliated and floral Kufic was used in both religious and secular architecture, particularly when stucco or carved stone was employed. Although the two forms may appear to be identical, there exists an essential difference between them.

In foliated Kufic the verticals end in half-palmettes, and often the final letters of words are exaggerated vertically and culminate in leaves or half-palmettes. The floral form, is readily distinguishable by the fact that the leaves and palmettes actually grow from the body of the letters themselves.

Foliated Kufic

Carved inscription from the Gazur Gah
Herat, 15th century.
Complex inscription in foliated Kufic which is also plaited, party floral and set on a scroll background.

One of the most striking examples of the ability of Persian calligraphers appears on the white slipware of the 9th and 10th century Samarkand and Nishapur. This pottery is associated with the Samanid dynasty and the Kufic script is painted in black around the perimeter of a bowl or plate.


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