ʿALĪ HERAVĪ, also known as MĪR ʿALĪ KĀTEB ḤOSAYNĪ, a calligrapher active in Herat, Mašhad, and Bukhara from the late 9/15th century to 951/1544-45. A specialist in the nastaʿlīq script, he excelled in its use for manuscripts, architectural inscriptions, and qeṭʿas (calligraphy specimens, often mounted as album pages); he also composed poetry in both Persian and Turkish with a penchant for chronograms, riddles, and occasional verse. He was born in Herat to a family of Ḥosaynī sayyeds ca. 881/1476, but his early life is obscure. Qāżī Aḥmad states that he had been trained in calligraphy at Mašhad first by a certain Zayn-al-dīn Maḥmūd, a student of Solṭān-ʿAlī Mašhadī, and later by the latter himself. Authors of taḏkeras have questioned this connection, but Mīr ʿAlī’s own statements corroborate it. Little is known about his activities in Herat. Writing in 896/1491, ʿAlī Šīr Navāʾī refers to him as a “youth” who writes well and composes poetry in Persian and Turkish. In the taḏkera entitled Qawāʿed-e ḵoṭūṭ va rayḥān, composed in 969/1561-62, it is said that Mīr ʿAlī worked in the Timurid dār-al-enšāʾ (correspondence bureau) copying aḥkām (royal decrees). Since Mīr ʿAlī occasionally uses the nesba “al-Solṭānī” in his colophons, M. Bayānī concluded that he had been connected with the court of Sultan Ḥosayn Bāyqarā. But some of these colophons were written during Mīr ʿAlī’s residence in Bukhara when he was employed by ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz Khan, so it is possible that the nesba refers not to a political figure but to Solṭān-ʿAlī Mašhadī and that its use was intended to draw attention to Mīr ʿAlī’s link with the earlier scribe. Mīr ʿAlī may have had some attachment to the Timurid dynasty, for he wrote verses praising Bābor as “the honor of Tīmūr’s family.” He may also have considered attaching himself to the Mughal court; his son Moḥammad Bāqer moved to India and became associated with ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm Ḵān-e Ḵānān. Between the Safavid conquest of 911/1506 and the Uzbek/Safavid war of 934-35/1528-29, Mīr ʿAlī appears to have lived in Herat. He may have been associated with the Safavid official Ḥabīballāh Sāvaǰī (killed 932/1526), of whom he wrote a eulogy. M. Bayānī reproduces an obsequious letter addressed to a certain Ḥosayn Khan, perhaps Ḥosayn Khan Šāmlū, the effective ruler of Herat from 932-35/1525-29. Mīr ʿAlī may have played some role in the Safavid administration of Khorasan.
The pivotal event in Mīr ʿAlī’s life appears to be ʿObayd Khan’s siege and eventual capture of Herat in Ṣafar, 936/October, 1529. Qāżī Aḥmad reports that Mīr ʿAlī was taken to Bukhara by the Uzbek ruler after the capture, but two manuscript colophons demonstrate that he was in Bukhara during the year 935; hence he must have left Herat during ʿObayd Khan’s siege rather than after its conclusion. In Bukhara Mīr ʿAlī was the principal calligrapher of ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz b. ʿObaydallāh (b. ca. 915/1509, d. 956/1549), whose atelier for the production of books included calligraphers, painters, and binders. Qāżī Aḥmad records a poem written by Mīr ʿAlī lamenting that his skill in calligraphy has led to his detention in Bukhara; several copies or variants are known signed by Mīr ʿAlī himself. Two are now in Istanbul: one in an album prepared for Shah Esmāʿīl, the other in an album arranged by Malek Daylamī. A third copy, dated to 944/1537-38, is in the Moraqqaʿ-e golšan, an album assembled for Jahāngīr now in the Ketābḵāna-ye Salṭanatī, Tehran. Despite the anguish conveyed in his poem, Mīr ʿAlī appears to have enjoyed considerable prestige in Bukhara. On ʿObaydallāh’s accession to the khanate in the fall of 940/1533 Mīr ʿAlī composed a panegyric that is found in the Moraqqaʿ-e golšan and ends with a chronogram, walī-e molk ʿObaydallāh Khan, which is mentioned by historians. He also composed verses praising Mīr Moḥammad Bāqer Yamanī, known as Mīr-e ʿArab, on the occasion of the construction of the latter’s madrasa; the concluding chronogram madrasa-ye ʿālī-e Mīr-e ʿArab yields the date 942/1535-36.
In reporting Mīr ʿAlī’s forced residence in Bukhara, Sām Mīrzā and Qāżī Aḥmad imply that he remained in that city until his death; but Qāżī Aḥmad also records several inscriptions containing chronograms from the shrine of Imam Reżā at Mašhad written by Mīr ʿAlī during this period. In one of them the words dahom-e Ḏu’l-qaʿda yield both a day and a year, 10 Ḏu’l-qaʿda 938/15 June 1532; another concludes with madḥ-e emām-e haštom “Praise to the Eighth Imam” (i.e., 939/1532-33). At this time ʿObaydallāh’s son ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz was in control of Mašhad, where he remained from ca. Jomādā II, 938/January, 1532 until ca. Rabīʿ I, 940/October, 1533. It is likely that Mīr ʿAlī accompanied him on this campaign and that the inscriptions in Mašhad record visits to the shrine on this occasion. Another colophon demonstrates that he visited Samarqand. Given his skill in chronograms, it is fitting that he is said to have composed one posthumously for himself and revealed it to a friend in a dream: Mīr ʿAlī fawt namūda “Mīr ʿAlī died” (951/1544-45). He was buried in Bukhara at Fatḥābād near the tomb of Sayf al-dīn Bāḵarzī.
Mīr ʿAlī’s calligraphy was widely appreciated. Qāżī Aḥmad remarks the moraqqaʿs, qeṭʿas, and nosḵas by Mīr ʿAlī are scattered “throughout the inhabited quarter of the world.” Mīr ʿAlī created a new qānūn or standard of proportion and wrote a treatise on calligraphy and prosody entitled Madad al-ḵoṭūṭ. His most important student was his own son, Mīr Moḥammad Bāqer, who was active primarily in India. Pages in the Moraqqaʿ-e golšan preserve calligraphy exercises Mīr ʿAlī wrote for his son’s benefit. The son himself collected the father’s calligraphy and poetry, assembling at least one album of his works. An album dedicated to Homāyūn now in the Topkapı Sarayı, Istanbul, contains calligraphy by both father and son. The best-known examples of Mīr ʿAlī’s calligraphy are those in two albums assembled for Jahāngīr: the Moraqqaʿ-e golšan and another in Berlin. In both of them pages of calligraphy, predominantly by Mīr ʿAlī, alternate with paintings. At present the Tehran album contains ninety-nine examples of his work, the Berlin twenty-four; further pages in private and public collections may have come from the Berlin album. The album pages by Mīr ʿAlī appear to include a compendium of his own verse as well as copies made at various dates, while the pages by other Herat scribes could have been in his possession. It is probable that the calligraphy pages in both Jahāngīr albums derive mainly from a single source; this may have been an album assembled either by Mīr ʿAlī himself or by his son.
B. Ātabāy, Fehrest-e moraqqaʿāt-e ketāb-ḵāna-ye salṭanatī, Tehran, 1353 Š./1974. pp. 334-42.
Bayānī, Ḵošnevīsān, pp. 492-516, 659-61.
M. C. Beach, The Grand Mogul, Williamsburg, Mass., 1978, pp. 43, 46, 51, 55-58.
E. Kühnel and H. Goetz, Indian Book Painting, London, 1926, pp. 2-7, pls. 21-23, 25, 26, 28-30.
Neṯārī Boḵārī, Moḏakker-e aḥbāb, New Delhi, 1969, pp. 79, 295-99.
Qāżī Aḥmad, pp. 78-84; tr. pp. 126-31.
Sām Mīrzā, Toḥfa-ye Sāmī, Tehran, 1352 Š./1973, p. 47.
(P. P. Soucek)
Originally Published: December 15, 1985
Last Updated: August 1, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 8, pp. 864-865