A Family of Calligraphers in Turkmen Architecture

The case of Kamâl al-din b. Shihâb al-Kâteb al-Yazdi*           [DYNTRAN WORKING PAPER 15, August 2016]

By Sandra AUBE

Signatures of craftsmen are very limited in Medieval Iranian architecture. About twenty emerged from Qarâ Qoyunlu (782-873/1380-1468) and Âq Qoyunlu (780-914/1378-1508) architecture; most of them are related to calligraphers (see Aube 2016 a). But even when a name is revealed, it is often merely the isolated name of an unknown protagonist. In this context, the repetition of the signature of a calligrapher named Kamâl, found on several monumental inscriptions from the region of Yazd during the second half of the 15th century, constitutes a rare opportunity to trace an individual in Turkmen architecture, since this name is the only one to be repeated on several monuments.

fig. 1_MJ of Yazd_year 863:1459_Aube 2009
Fig. 1: Masjed-e Jâme‘ of Yazd: panel dated 863/1459 (© Aube 2009)

The signature katabahu Kamâl, “written by Kamâl”, is found on three different panels from the Masjed-e Jâmeʿ of Yazd made between 863/1459 and 875/1470-1471. Two of these inscriptions are displayed in the main vestibule of the mosque. The first is a rectangular mosaic tile panel, copied in a narrow white thuluth script with long straight stems on a blue background. The text is organized into nine lines under a decorative shouldered arch (Fig. 1). The basmallah is given in the first line and heads a decree from the time of the Qarâ Qoyunlu Abu al-Moẓaffar Jahânshâh (r. 841-872/1438-1467) prohibiting animals to enter the mosque. The last part of the decree gives the year 863/1459 and ends with the signature “katabahu Kamâl” written in a smaller tawqiʿ script. (Complete transliteration in Aube 2015, p. 74).

fig. 2_MJ of Yazd_year 875:1470-1471_Aube 2009
Fig. 2: Masjed-e Jâme‘ of Yazd: panel dated 875/1470-1 (© Aube 2009)

The second artifact is a rectangular stone panel. Its composition is more intricate than the former mosaic panel (Fig. 2). The main text runs on ten lines under a similar shouldered arch, in a more ample and round thuluth script. The text is also a decree issued during the time of the Âq Qoyunlu ruler Abu al-Naṣr Solṭân Uzun Ḥasan (r. 861-882/1457-1478) and dated to 875/1470-1471. The same signature closes the inscription: “katabahu Kamâl”, written in tawqiʿ. This part is bordered on three sides by an inscription band, using the same style of writing as the main text, and mentioning in its middle part the name of Uzun Ḥasan. The top band of this panel is composed of a central thuluth inscription giving the basmallâh; it is surrounded at the top angles by two Kufic cartouches, each repeating the name of Moḥammad four times.

fig. 3_MJ of Yazd_Undated_Aube 2014
Fig. 3: Masjed-e Jâme‘ of Yazd: undated mihrab (© Aube 2014)

The last panel is located in the main mihrab of the central domed chamber (Fig. 3). It is a rectangular mosaic tile panel. The text is written in a round and large white thuluth script, organized into nine lines on a blue background. It names the Twelve Imams (Aube 2015, p. 75 for the complete transliteration). The panel is not dated, but the style is clearly related to the same period, and the calligraphy ends once again with the signature: katabahu Kamâl, in a turquoise tawqiʿ script.

Although “Kamâl” is a frequently encountered element of names, the repeated use of the same mark in one monument within such a limited period of time supposes that these three panels have to be connected to each other. On each of them, the calligrapher “Kamâl” uses different variations of thuluth and tawqiʿ scripts, making it more complicated to identify a possible “hand”. One can suppose through the form of the signature that “Kamâl” was sufficiently renowned in Yazd to sign his work with a short version of his name.

fig. 4_Shâh Vali Mosque in Taft_889-1484_Aube 2006
Fig. 4: Shah Vali Mosque in Taft, 889-1484 (© Aube 2006)

Less than ten years later, two other monumental inscriptions were signed by a certain Kamâl, son of Shehâb. The first is located in the Shâh Vali Mosque in Taft, in the vicinity of Yazd. The entrance door of the mosque is surrounded by a patchwork of ceramic tile panels replaced here at an unknown date. Among these is an inscription band that frames the entrance door on three sides (Fig. 4). The calligraphy is made with mosaic tiles; a white thuluth script appears on a blue background. The curving back of the tails of the letter ʿ forms an extremely long and elegant horizontal line on the two first parts of the inscription. The text gives a prayer with the names of the Twelve Imams that ends with the following signature, written in Persian: “Kamâl-e Shehâb wrote this inscription” (nevesht in ketâbe Kamâl-e Shehâb). The inscription is dated 2 Shaʿbân 889/September 3rd 1484. (Complete transliteration in Aube 2015, p. 77).

It is tempting to connect this signature with the one that Kamâl-e Shehâb made in Isfahan six years later. The mausoleum of Shaykh Abu Maṣʿud (rebuilt in 895/1489-1490) is the only remnant of a larger architectural complex erected in Isfahan. The foundation inscription extends over the three internal sides of the pishtâq, above the main door (Fig. 5). It is a mosaic tile band, written in an elegant white thuluth script on a vegetal turquoise band on a blue background. The calligraphy shows two variations of thuluth – a tall and shorter one – organized on two horizontal registers. Associated with several praise formulas, the name of the Âq Qoyunlu ruler Abu al-Moẓaffar Yaʿqub Bahâdor Khân (r. 883-896/1489-1490) is inscribed in the middle of the main register, on the central band, and is followed by the name of the patron Moḥammad ebn Jalâl al-din ʿArabshâh. The inscription ends with an Arabo-Persian phrase written with a tawqiʿ script giving the year 895/1489-90 and the signature: “written by the slave Kamâl [son of] Shehâb, the scribe from Yazd” (katabahu al-ʿabd Kamâl-e Shehâb al-kâteb al-Yazdi). (See Aube 2015, p. 79 for the complete transliteration).

fig. 5_Shaykh Abu Maṣʿud Mausoleum in Isfahan_895-1489-90_Aube 2014
Fig. 5: Shaykh Abu Maṣʿud Mausoleum in Isfahan, 895/1489-90 (© Aube 2014)

These two signatures found at Taft and Isfahan clearly refer to the same calligrapher, active in Taft in 889/1484 and employed in Isfahan in 895/1489-1490. But are we dealing with the same Kamâl who worked in the Masjed-e Jâme‘ of Yazd? At Isfahan, Kamâl added a genealogical reference (nasab) to his name referring to his father, Shehâb. This filiation is confirmed by the historian Moḥammad Mofid Mostawfi Bâfqi: in his survey of calligraphers from Yazd (see its Jâmeʿ-ye Mofidi, late 17th or early 18th century), Mofidi records a certain “Mawlânâ Kamâl al-din b. Mawlânâ Shehâb al-din”, described as being a skillful calligrapher mastering the thuluth, naskh, tawqiʿ, reqâʿ, as well as taʿliq styles, and using his excellent writing on both manuscripts and monuments. Thus Mofidi confirms that “Shehâb” refers to the father of Kamâl in the signatures he left on the buildings in Taft and Isfahan. It is interesting to note that, when working far from his previous place of activity, Kamâl gives a still more complete version of his name, including his nasab but also his nisba: “al-kâteb al-Yazdi”, indicating his link to Yazd.

If all these signatures belong to the same Kamâl, then they would trace an artistic career beginning around the late 1450s in Yazd and ending more than thirty years later in Isfahan, around the year 895/1489-1490. Indeed, it would be a surprising coincidence – although not entirely impossible – to find two calligraphers named Kamâl and strongly connected with Yazd during this limited period. The question of connecting these signatures together is complex, since Kamâl uses different writing styles and is consequently difficult to identify. Moreover Kamâl is quite a widespread name and could be viewed as a takhalluṣ (penname) of the artist, or even be interpreted as a workshop’s signature. “Kamâl” refers to “Perfection, Beauty” [of religion] and could have also a double meaning and refer to calligraphy itself. Although all these marks seem connected to each other, any conclusion is still difficult to assert without more formal and textual evidence.

Another issue is attempting to identify Kamâl’s genealogy. Mofidi clearly mentions the calligrapher Kamâl as being the son of Shehâb al-din. Considering that skills were often transmitted from father to son in this period, could Shehâb al-din have been a scribe too? A calligrapher named Shehâb al-din has been identified among other signatures in the Shaykh Bâbâ Mosque in Marâghe, around 864/1459-1460: his work is thus contemporary with the young Kamâl (see Aube 2015, p. 83-84). Shehâb al-din signs an inscription organized on seven registers sculpted on a stone column. But besides the name Shehâb itself – which is once again a very common name – no evidence allows any conclusion about a possible filiation with Kamâl. Mofidi does not even specify Shehâb’s profession: if he had been a scribe, we can suppose that Mofidi would have mentioned it.

We could attempt to consider Kamâl al-din’s possible descendants. In the study on Amir Khosraw’s Khamse published in 2003, Barbara Brend identified a group of manuscripts made between 898/1493 and 910/1504 by a scribe named Ḥasan ebn Kamâl al-din al-Hâdi al-Ḥosayni al-Yazdi (Brend 2003, p. 114-123). Was this Ḥasan from Yazd, son of a Kamâl, related to the Kamâl from Yazd previously mentioned? Nothing proves such a filiation. Nothing contradicts it either. There are certainly some limits to familial history in such a context. In any case Ḥasan is a new example of a Yazdi calligrapher active between 898/1492 and 910/1504, and was part of the generation after Kamâl’s. Beyond the possible filiation from Kamâl to Ḥasan, the work of these two calligraphers – whether they wrote for manuscripts or architecture – highlights some aspects of the underrated artistic center of Yazd (on this question, see Aube 2015 and Aube 2016 b). What was the role of such calligraphers in the widespread of a “Yazdi style”? What decided the mobility of craftsmen? And what was their learning lineage? Although the case of Kamâl from Yazd constitutes a rare testimony of the mobility and influence of an individual in Turkmen architecture, it illustrates by the same time how tricky is the thematic of family of craftsmen in Iranian architecture.

Sandra Aube (August 2016)

* For the extended version of this article, see: Sandra Aube, “In Search of ‘Kamāl’: Five Monumental Inscriptions From Yazd (Second Half of the Fifteenth Century)”, Eurasian Studies 13 (2015), p. 69-92.

Quoted bibliography

  • Aube 2015: Sandra Aube, “In Search of ‘Kamāl’: Five Monumental Inscriptions From Yazd (Second Half of the Fifteenth Century)”, Eurasian Studies 13 (2015), p. 69-92.
  • Aube 2016 a: Sandra Aube, La céramique dans l’architecture en Iran au XVe siècle. Les arts qarâ quyûnlûs et âq quyûnlûs, Paris: Presses Universitaires de Paris-Sorbonne, 2016 [forthcoming].
  • Aube 2016 b: Sandra Aube, “The Uzun Hasan Mosque in Tabriz: New Perspectives on a Tabrizi Ceramic Tile Workshop”, Muqarnas33 (2016) [forthcoming].
  • Brend 2003: Barbara Brend, Perspectives on Persian Painting. Illustrations to Amīr Khusrau’s Khamsah, London and New York: Routledge Curzon, 2003.
  • Mofid, Mostawfi Bâfqi, Jâmeʿ-ye Mofidi, edited by Iraj Afshâr, Tehran: Inteshârat Asâther, 1385/2006.
To quote this publication :

Aube, Sandra, “A Family of Calligraphers in Turkmen Architecture: The case of Kamâl al-din b. Shihâb al-Kâteb al-Yazdi”, DYNTRAN Working Papers, n° 15, online edition, August 2016, available at: http://dyntran.hypotheses.org/1506


Cite this blog post
Sandra Aube (2016, August 8). A Family of Calligraphers in Turkmen Architecture. DYNTRAN: Dynamics of Transmission. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://dyntran.hypotheses.org/1506

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