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Mir Ali Tabrizi

Biographies of calligraphers and treatises composed in sixteenth-century Iran credit Mir Ali Tabrizi (active circa 1370–1410) with the “invention” of the nasta‘liq script. For this distinction he later received the prestigious title qudwat al-kuttab (“model for the scribes.”) Mir Ali Tabrizi was active in the royal workshop in Tabriz under the reign of the Jalayrid sultan Ahmad, who died in 1410. The renowned calligrapher transmitted his art to his son Abdallah. He in turn was the master of Ja‘far Tabrizi, who popularized nasta‘liq in eastern Iran at the Timurid court of Herat after 1420.

Little is known about Mir Ali’s life and work. According to legend, he created the new script after Ali ibn Abi Talib, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, appeared to him in a dream. Ali, who is traditionally seen as the very initiator of calligraphy in Islam, told Mir Ali Tabrizi to draw letters that look like the wings of flying geese. Nasta‘liq allegedly came into existence from that directive. Scholars have recently argued, however, that the script in fact emerged gradually in the second half of the fourteenth century in the cities of Shiraz and Tabriz.

At present, the only known signed work in the world by Mir Ali Tabrizi is the Freer Gallery of Art’s copy of Khusraw u Shirin by the Persian author Nizami.

Whether of the fine, or of the large
naskh-i ta‘liq,
The original inventor was
Khwaja Mir Ali

From his fine intellect, he laid down the rules of the new script
From naskh and from ta‘liq

—Sultan Ali Mashhadi, Sirat al-sutur, 1514

 <em>Khusraw u Shirin</em> by Nizami  <em>Divan</em> by Sultan Ahmad Jalayir
detail, Khusraw u Shinin by Nizami

Mir Ali Tabrizi's signature appears in this colophon. It is the only known signed work by the master calligrapher.

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