BĀBĀ SHAH ESFAHĀNĪ, calligrapher and poet who lived in Isfahan and Baghdad where he died in 996/1587-88. He was famous as a writer of the nastaʿlīq script. Said to have had an ascetic temperament, he also wrote poetry under the taḵalloṣ “Ḥālī.” Virtually nothing is known about his personal life or professional training. Statements by Taqī-al-Dīn Moḥammad Kāšānī and Moṣṭafā-ʿAlī (apud Bayānī, Ḵošnevīsān, pp. 85-86) that he studied in Mašhad with Sayyed Aḥmad Mašhadī are disproved by Qāżī Aḥmad’s silence on this matter. He associates Bābā Shah exclusively with Isfahan and Baghdad. Since Qāżī Aḥmad himself lived in Mašhad and studied with Sayyed Aḥmad Mašhadī he would certainly have mentioned it if Bābā Shah had done likewise.
Bābā Shah does not appear to have been connected with any royal or princely patrons. According to both Qāżī Aḥmad and Eskandar Beg he first went to Iraq to visit its shrines. Eskandar Beg Monšī mentions that Bābā Shah supported himself by his calligraphy during his residence in Iraq. The commercial value of his calligraphy is confirmed by Eskandar Beg’s remark that his writing sold at a high price and had become difficult to obtain. An indirect confirmation of the wide dispersal of Bābā Shah’s calligraphy is given by M. Bayānī who was only able to identify three specimens by Bābā Shah’s hand.
Another facet of Bābā Shah’s activity is his composition of a treatise on calligraphy entitled Ādāb al-mašq. Some copies of this text ascribe its composition to the later calligrapher Mīr ʿEmād but an early copy now preserved in the library of Punjab University in Lahore confirms that Bābā Shah is indeed its author. In his preface Bābā Shah praises the writing of Solṭān-ʿAlī Mašhadī. The few published examples of Bābā Shah’s calligraphy suggest that he may have modeled his own style on that of Solṭān-ʿAlī. Both calligraphers stress balance and harmony in both the formation of letter shapes and overall composition of a page.
Bayānī, Ḵošnevīsān, pp. 84-91.
Eskandar Beg Monšī, Tārīḵ-eʿālamārā-ye ʿabbāsī, p. 121.
Qāżī Aḥmad, Golestān-e honar, p. 119; tr. Minorsky, Calligraphers and Painters, pp. 165-66.
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: August 18, 2011
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Vol. III, Fasc. 3, p. 295