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Ibnu Muqlah

Ibn Muqlah is known as a prophet in the field of handwriting. It has been said that writing was poured upon his hand, even as it was revealed to the bees to make their honey cells hexagonal. To some later Muslim writers, the high individuality and sometime obfuscation of the early period's calligraphic arts implied disorder. These writers regarded Ibn Muqlah (886-940 AD) as a figure of heroic stature who laid the basis for a great art upon firm principles and who created the Six Styles of writing. The first of a triad of geniuses, he was followed by Ibn al-Bawwab 11th century) and Yaqut al-Musta'simi (late 13th century). The latter two men built upon Ibn Muqlah's achievements so well that to scribes, connoisseurs, and literati from the 14th through the 18th centuries, these three calligraphers appeared to be the sole creators of the 'modern styles," and the three men assumed the roles of semi-legendary figures personifying the developments that took place over many centuries by a number of scribes. Each of the three men came to be viewed as an exemplar of certain admirable personal characteristics or as a model for necessary calligraphic skills.

Ibn Muqlah's achievement represented the adoption of sound geometric principles for calligraphy, and his life exemplified devotion to his art despite great person suffering. Like many calligraphers, Ibn Muqlah also was a state official. The two roles are intimately connected since good writing was an indispensable tool for anyone aspiring to high governmental rank. Ibn Muqlah's career was stormy, in part as the result of his own actions. At the age of 22, he was already serving in important posts where he not only practiced his skills as a scribe but also engaged in heady infighting and intrigue. Three times vizier under the Abbasaid caliph in Baghdad, Ibn Muqlah and his struggle against court enigmas and political disintegration ultimately were unsuccessful. After his political disgrace and replacement in 936 AD, his property was confiscated and he was cruelly imprisoned. Subsequently, his right hand was cut off, a dreadful punishment in itself but particularly horrible for a celebrated master of the word.

After still more maltreatment, he died in the summer of 940 AD.While Ibn Muqlah often was credited with the invention of the cursive scripts like Nasta'liq and other sitta styles, it can be said with fair certainty that he invented no script styles at all. Instead, he applied to the whole available art of calligraphy specific reformist canons which amounted to a new method for transcribing already familiar scripts. He provided the means for replacing more individual calligraphic inclinations with styles based on ordered, objective, and universally applicable rules.

Thus, his khatt al-mansub (proportioned script) offered for the first time in Islamic calligraphy a fixed unit of measurement -- the rhomboid point of ink lift by the pressure of the reed pen in one spot. The upright vertical stroke of the alif was to be measured in its terms -- some scripts made alifs of three points in height, other, five or even seven. Curving letters,c like the nun which formed a half circle, had diameters the size of their script's alif; and every letter stood in fixed relation to the alif or the rhomboid point. Script was now regulated on geometric principles, and the passion for mathematics and musical harmony that characterized so much of medieval Islamic culture found another outlet in this central Muslim art.Unfortunately, no authentic work in Ibn Muqlah's hand is known to exist, but his principles are clear. They rapidly became influential but apparently were viewed as too strictly governed by mathematical certainties for two generations later Ibn al-Bawwab was credited with bringing artistry to Ibn Muqlah's rules

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