The Cosmic Script Sacred Geometry and the Science of Arabic Penmanship By Ahmed Moustafa and Stefan Sperl (London: Thames and Hudson, 2014. 692 pages.)

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Tammy Gaber

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Abstract

This cloth-bound, large-format book set is a quest to understand and apply the
contents of a groundbreaking fourth/tenth-century treatise that reformed Arabic
penmanship and established the canon of calligraphy applied to this day.
Muhamad ibn Ali ibn Muqla’s treatise The Proportioned Script acts as the esoteric
center of a riddle not unlike the unraveling of a lost book through other
books as seen in Umberto Echo’s The Name of the Rose. In this case, The Proportioned
Script is but a succinct treatise, for Ibn Muqla’s two explanatory
manuscripts detailing the proportions and methods are lost – and can only be
retraced through subsequent studies and drawn reconstruction.
Why such a monumental effort to unravel a single small treatise on Arabic
penmanship? As the authors explain, it was and is the canon of proportion in
writing and reveals a great deal about the sociocultural context and the importance
of script related to faith. Hence the title of the book. The Cosmic Script
is clearly the result of significant research. The two authors met over four
decades ago, during which Moustafa completed an MA and a PhD on the subject.
They collaborated for eight years on unraveling The Proportioned Script
through other sources and reconstructed the canon of letters by a detailed geometric
analysis and Moustafa’s own artistic practice of application.
The first volume includes an introduction and seven chapters outlining
the historical and spiritual background of the Arabic script in terms of ancient
pre-Islamic influences. The second volume contains an introduction and
twenty-one chapters, of which nineteen cover the specific letter families and
outline sources and specific graphics for each letter’s formulation.
“Decoding the “Geometry of Letters,” the introduction to the first volume,
describes Ibn Muqla as having invented the theory of proportioned script that
transformed this art form and had a significant impact upon the culture of the
Abbasid era and beyond. He derived his system from the scribal dot (square
in form, on an angle) and thus, according to the authors, linked prophecy, writing,
and geometry with the sacred dimensions. The elevated rank of the pen
and writing were underscored by the first revealed Qur’anic verses and the
sacred status of the physical Qur’an. The authors argued that geometry bridged ...

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