Home > Explore + Learn > Nasta‘liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy > Sultan Ali Mashhadi > Object

 <em>Majmu&lsquo;a-i munsh&lsquo;at</em>  by Abu&lsquo;l-Qasim Ivughli Haydar

Majmu‘a-i munsh‘at by Abu‘l-Qasim Ivughli Haydar

Ivughli, a secretary (munshi) at the Safavid court, compiled this collection of correspondence (majmu‘a-i munsh’at) sent by Persian rulers, from the Great Seljuks in the eleventh century to the Safavid shah Safi I (reigned 1629–42). In Iran, the art of letter writing was as much esteemed as eloquence and rhetoric. Penned in neat shikasta nasta‘liq (“broken nasta‘liq”), the text alternates between paragraphs written horizontally and diagonally from the right or the left.

One letter of particular interest is on the left-hand page. Composed by the Timurid ruler Sultan Husayn (reigned 1469–1506), it is addressed to the celebrated calligrapher Sultan Ali Mashhadi (died 1520). The sovereign reprimands the calligrapher for making too many mistakes when copying poems written in Turkish, the language Sultan Husayn used for his own poetry.

The letter reads:

May the best of scribes, Master Nizamuddin Sultan-Ali, realize that the favor and patronage of the patron’s all-solving mind that have attached to him are more apparent than the sun, and the royal good opinion of his art is more obvious than yesterday. We have written the page of his hopes with the pen of affection, drawn the pen of abrogation through the calligraphy of former masters, and consider him above all others in that art. However, in the royal divans that have been scriven by his miraculous pen, many mistakes and errors are to be seen, and scratching and corrections in such enchanting calligraphy are unforgivable, as has been said:

Clothing half of brocade and half of sackcloth is worthless.

In view of the fact that he has acquired a perfect expertise in the copying of Turkish poetry and has a great mastery of the manner of poetry and prose, this is abundantly strange. It is well known that in the meaning and layout of the words of a line of poetry—not to mention a hemistich—the composer must make a great effort, and to perfect a conceit he must make a great exertion of will power. When error creeps into the rules and regulations through scribal intervention or a slip of the pen, it causes displeasure, and the defect lies heavy on the mind of the poet.

The story is well known that while out for a stroll a great poet passed by a brickmaker reciting the poet’s poetry—but it was recited erroneously and uncadenced. When the master poet saw the arrangement of his words was being poured badly into the mold of meaning, he immediately stepped onto the bricks the man had made and crushed them into the dust. The brickmaker said in anger, “Why have you wasted my efforts and indulged in such cruelty?”

“Oh,” he replied, “you crush with the stone of cruelty a pearl that cost me so much effort to string onto a line of poetry, and you think nothing of it? Yet you turn the few bricks you have fashioned into an excuse to be rude and impolite.”

One can spout nonsense from the mouth like pearls: it is a brick that can break a wing.

The point of these preliminaries is that since there is a natural connection between the poet’s mind and the product of his poetic nature and contemplation, scribes and copyists must take great pains to be correct and free of error, and henceforth you will pay attention and strive to ensure that what is written by your miraculous pen is protected from the calamity of error and mistake, and the pages free of any necessity to scratch out and make corrections. You must endeavor appropriately in all that you write in order to receive as before. Peace.

Translation excerpted from Wheeler M. Thackston, Album Prefaces and Other Documents on the History of Calligraphers and Painters. Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill, 2001, p. 51.

Majmu‘a-i munsh‘at by Abu‘l-Qasim Ivughli Haydar
Iran, Isfahan, Safavid period, dated 1682 (1094 AH)
Ink and color on paper
Gift of Nader and Narges Ahari in memory of Nasser Ahari
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery S2014.7