Nasta’liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy

Sultan Ali Mashhadi

His writing conquered the world and is among other writings as the sun among other planets.
—Qazi Ahmad, Gulistan-i honar, circa 1595

Later honored with the titles of “sultan of calligraphers” and “cynosure of calligraphers,” Sultan Ali Mashhadi enjoyed a long career before he died in 1520. He spent many years in Herat at the court of the Timurid princes Abu Sa’id (reigned 1458–69) and Sultan Husayn Mirza (reigned 1469–1506). Active in the library-workshop (kitabkhana), Sultan Ali also trained dozens of pupils in the art of calligraphy, many of whom became illustrious practitioners working in princely ateliers.

A native of Mashhad, Sultan Ali retired in 1510 in his hometown in northeastern Iran. Four years later he composed the Sirat al-sutur (The path of writing), an epistle in rhymed verse in which he draws a parallel between calligraphic practice and religious discipline.

On a technical level, Sultan Ali Mashhadi defined new rules for nasta‘liq and elevated the script to its classical form. The historian Khwandamir, who died in 1534, asserted Sultan Ali “obliterated the calligraphy of masters of the past and present.” Writing around 1600, the Persian author Qazi Ahmad claimed Sultan Ali’s handwriting “attained such a degree of perfection that is seems incredible anyone could emulate him.”

Folios from a Divan by Sultan Husayn MirzaAlbum folioAlbum folioImage of Gulistan by Sa'di
Image of Gulistan by Sa'diImage of Majmu'a-i munsh'at by Abu'l-Qasim Ivughli Haydar