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The young Calligrapher Abdurrahman Depeler  at work The young Calligrapher Abdurrahman Depeler at work © Abdurrahman Depeler

Calligraphy in Istanbul

Exploring calligraphy, one of the highest art forms in Islamic tradition.


Turkey Editor

14 November 2014

Take a good look at the many fountains or walk into any of the historical mosques around Istanbul. You will see beautiful Arabic script in black or gold everywhere. Many monuments in this city are adorned with impressive examples of calligraphy.

Since Islamic tradition generally considers figurative art as idolatry, historically calligraphy was the highest form of artistic expression in Muslim societies. It began as a way of preserving the Koran and turned into an art form out of respect and love towards the word of God.

The Arabic alphabet has 28 letters and 18 basic shapes, which can be drawn in different calligraphic scripts. Known for its angularity and formality, the Kufic script was the first amongst the many styles, and it developed later according to use or region. It was replaced by the easily legible Naskh script, also the most common font in Arabic today. Thuluth (one-third of a certain pen size) is the expert's choice when it comes to calligraphy, and Divani, which is very difficult to read and write, was used in the official documents of the Ottoman court to prevent forgery.

There is a famous saying in the world of calligraphy: "The Koran was revealed in Mecca, read in Egypt and written in Istanbul.'' When the Turks accepted Islam in about the 8th century, they also adopted the Arabic script. Some of the most beautiful copies of the Koran were made at the height of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul by masters who were revered by the Sultans. Today calligraphy is still a popular art form and can be found not only in museums and mosques, but also in people's homes.

a hadith, holy words of the prophet Muhammed, written in Jeli Divani script.

Abdurrahman Depeler is a young calligrapher from Konya, whose work is critically acclaimed and has won international competitions. "The goal in calligraphy is to beautifully depict the Koran," says the 32 year-old artist, "therefore being a calligrapher means worshipping while practicing." After religious vocational high school, he studied Fine Arts and sociology. His biggest inspiration while he was growing up was his grandfather, the revered calligrapher Abdullah Rıza Bey, and his works on the walls of his childhood home. His grandfather made sure he started working with a master, in accordance with tradition, and after 15 years, Depeler is now a well-known calligrapher working in the Jeli Tuluth script. He recommends that if you're looking to buy historical calligraphy, you should always hire a consultant. If you're looking for something more contemporary, then go with your gut.

Even though calligraphy is all around the city, one of the best places to see outstanding examples of this art is the SSM Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Emirgan. Their permanent collection consists of more than 200 examples of illuminated Korans, prayer books, calligraphic compositions, albums and panels written by well-known calligraphers, and it also includes calligrapher's tools.

For more information on Abdurrahman Depeler see depeler.com