Artistic Handcraft -Calligraphic composition on a sweet chestnut leaf

Text: Sura-al-Isra´
Size: 28x13.5 cm 
Origin and time: Ottoman Turkey, 19th century
Catalogue: Schätze des Aga Khan Museum, AKTC
Inv. No. AKM 00538

It used to be very characteristic of the Ottoman culture to inscribe objects with Qur´an verses using a wealth of methods and techniques. One of the most exceptional techniques is that employed for this gilt leaf, particularly popular in the Ottoman Turkey of the 18th century. The present exhibit features the following verse from Sura-al-Isra´(“The Nocturnal Journey”):
“And say, my Lord! Let my entry (into the city of Al-Madinah) be good, and likewise my exit (from the city of Makkah) be good. And grant me from You an authority (or a firm sign of proof) to help me”

The calligrapher used the elegant thuluth murakkab script in virtuoso manner, thus creating a composition that resembles a boat and its crew. While the technique for leaf gilding is, visually, much the same as Ottoman cut-out work or decoupage, it necessitated a quite distinctive procedure. After the inscription had been either written or stenciled, it was sealed with a wax barrier on both sides. Subsequently, the leaf was soaked in an alkaline solution until only the skeleton of its veins and the inscription remained.

The present example is a leaf of the sweet or Spanish chestnut (castanea sativa). This further emphasizes its virtuosity, for these leaves are more fragile than those commonly used as the basis for ornamentation for such compositions. AF