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Ibnu Bawwab

Ibn al-Bawwab, Abu´l-Hasan Ali b. Hilal, known also under the name of Ibn al-Sitri, famous calligrapher of the Buwayhid period who died in Baghdad in 413/1022 (this date is more probable than 423/1031). He frequented the governmental circles of the period, as he was closely attached to the vizier Fakhr al Mulk Abu Ghalib Muhammad b. Khalaf at Baghdad and was for some time in charge of the library of Buwayhid Baha´ al-Dawla at Shiraz.

He was also an illuminator (at least one outstanding example of his work surviving), a devout man who knew the Kur´an by heart and is said to have reproduced sixty-four copies of it, and a man of letters who was well versed in the law and who wrote a treatise and a didactic poem on the art of writing.

His real claim to fame, however, according to the early Arab authors, was to have perfected the style of writing invented, about a century earlier, by his famous predecessor, the vizier Ibn Mukla and to have brought it to a degree of well-balanced elegance which was to be surpassed later only by the efforts of Yakut al-Musta`simi. "The well-proportioned script" (al-khatt al-mansub) which he thus made famous in such a remarkable way, and whose basic geometric outlines E. Robertson and N. Abbott have tried to reconstitute by means of a system of theoretical measurement of the letters described in later treatises on calligraphy, has given rise to many different interpretations - particularly since its title itself means perhaps nothing more than a "fine script". It nevertheless seems likely that we are today in a position to evaluate the calligraphy of Ibn Bawwab through the unique example of it in a Kur´an in the Chester Beatty Library (MS K. 16), signed by Ibn Bawwab and dated 391/1000-1, whose calligraphy is as splendid as its illuminations.

The type of naskhi used in this work, as well as the style of its geometric and floral decorations, form the subject of a long study by D. S. Rice, who applied himself to demonstrating the authenticity of this specimen while revealing forgeries in the five other manuscripts hitherto attributed to the famous calligrapher (among them two copies of the Diwan of Salama b. Djandal preserved in Istanbul, which do indeed date from the 5th/11th century but which had had false signatures added).

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