Nasta’liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy

Mir Imad al-Hasani

Mir Imad perfected his small hand to a degree that it is possible to call him the second Mir Ali.
—Qazi Ahmad, Gulistan-i honar, circa 1595

None of the previous masters surpassed Imad al-Hasani, who was regarded as the undisputed master of nasta‘liq. Even today in Iran, his name remains synonymous with the greatest achievement of Persian calligraphy. A member of an eminent family of sayyids (descendants of the Prophet) from Qazvin, Mir Imad began his training at the age of eight and spent most of his life in his native town. At the turn of the seventeenth century, he joined the Safavid court of Shah Abbas I (reigned 1588–1629) in Isfahan. There, Mir Imad soon fell out with Ali Riza-i Abbasi, the head of the royal workshop and the favorite calligrapher of Shah Abbas.

In 1615 Mir Imad was murdered, possibly at the command of the shah, after the calligrapher made a few imprudent comments. Others later asserted Mir Imad was in fact assassinated because of the jealousy of Ali Riza, his rival. Müstakimzade, an Ottoman biographer in the eighteenth century, claimed that Mir Imad’s sectarian orientation—he was a Sunni and a prominent member of the Sufi Naqshbandi order—was the main reason for his tragic demise. Some of his relatives, including his nephew Rashida, a renowned calligrapher in his own right, fled to the court of Shah Jahan (reigned 1628–58) in India. The Mughal ruler was a great admirer of Mir Imad and avidly collected his works.

Folios of calligraphyColophon page from Makhzan al-asrar by Haydar KhwarazmiGulistan by Sa'di
Poem by Jami