Stunning Examples of Calligraphy on Dried Leaves by the Ottoman Turks

Islamic Leaf Calligraphy

Arabic calligraphy is known for its beautiful, artistic lines; but, in Ottoman Turkey, calligraphers really took things to a whole new level. Over the course of 500 years, the Ottoman Turks perfected many different script styles and elevated the art form. Recently, Bayt Al Fann, an online art platform celebrating Islamic art, called attention to a unique canvas used for such calligraphy—a dried leaf.

This Twitter thread shares 20 examples of this difficult and delicate practice. The gold script pops against the dark, dried leaves. The spidery veins of the leaf enhance the work, creating a beautiful texture and pattern that contrasts with the swooping curves of the calligraphy.

Singapore's Asian Civilisations Museum has several examples in its collection and shares that leaf calligraphy was widely practiced in Ottoman Turkey during the 19th century. Working with this natural material was no easy feat, though. “The leaf has to be dried, and the tissue has to be removed slowly so as to leave the skeletal membrane,” shares the museum. “The stencil of the composition is placed behind the leaf and the gold ink with gum Arabic is applied over it.”

As might be expected, verses from the Qur'an, poetry, and prayers were popular choices for calligraphers. But what might not be expected is the delightful practice of fitting the script inside shapes that form fruit, animals, and other inanimate objects. Looking at these pieces, it's impossible not to marvel at their intricacy. One can imagine the painstaking work of the calligraphers, who would have needed to move with precision to create these lines on a fragile, uneven surface.

It's a testament to their artistry that so many examples still survive. To imagine that for 100 years, or more, these calligraphy leaves were carefully preserved demonstrates the high value given to this precious form of art.

The Ottoman Turks are known for perfecting Arabic calligraphy.

Arabic Calligraphy from Ottoman Turkey on a Leaf

In the 19th century, it was quite popular to use dried leaves as a canvas for this type of calligraphy.

Ottoman Arabic Leaf Calligraphy

Calligraphers often used animals, fruit, and inanimate objects in their compositions.

Ottoman Turkish Leaf Calligraphy in the Shape of a Lion Islamic Leaf Calligraphy Artistic Islamic Leaf Calligraphy

Qur'an verses, prayers, and poetry were popular themes for the calligraphers.

Artistic Islamic Leaf Calligraphy Arabic Calligraphy on a Leaf in the Shape of a Bird Artistic Islamic Leaf Calligraphy

All images via Bayt Al Fann/Twitter.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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