Nasta’liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy

Mir Ali Haravi

He brought the art of the large and small script and the writing of samples to the utmost degree of perfection.
—Qazi Ahmad, Gulistan-i honar, circa 1595

Mir Ali Haravi was one of the most brilliant students of the calligrapher Sultan Ali Mashhadi. He considered himself superior to his master. Asked about the differences between his own calligraphic skills and that of his teacher, Mir Ali replied, “I brought it to perfection but his writing had a special flavor.” Although he is often compared to his celebrated instructor, authors of treatises on calligraphy do not necessarily agree that he surpassed Sultan Ali Mashhadi. It is generally accepted, however, that Mir Ali initiated a new canon of nasta‘liq, especially in the genre of large-scale qit‘as, or fragments of poetry. Hundreds of qit’as with the signature of this extremely prolific calligrapher are known, but many of the works were in fact penned by his students. In an unusual move for a renowned artist, Mir Ali allowed his pupils to sign their well-executed pieces with his name.

Raised in Herat, Mir Ali worked in the royal workshops of the Timurid and then the Safavid dynasty. He witnessed the Uzbek seizure of Herat in 1528. Forced into exile in Bukhara, Mir Ali served Ubaydallah and Abd al-Aziz, khans of the Shaybanid dynasty, until his death around 1550. In the numerous poetic verses he composed in Persian and Turkic, Mir Ali Haravi often lamented the cruelty of destiny and the fact that he would never visit Herat again.

Folio from an unidentified album Folio from the Late Shah Jahan Album  Calligraphy folio from the Gulshan Album  Anthology of poetry