ʿALĪ-REŻĀ ABBĀSĪ TABRĪZĪ, 10th-11th/16th-17th century calligrapher born and trained in Tabrīz but active principally in Qazvīn and Isfahan. His birth date is unknown but Qāżī Aḥmad, writing in 1005/1596, speaks of him as still young; his documented professional activity stretches from 993/1585 to 1025/1617, though he is said to have been alive in 1038/1628-29. Principally remembered for the ṯoloṯ inscriptions he designed for the buildings of Shah ʿAbbās in Isfahan, in his own time he was more famous as a nastaʿlīq calligrapher; examples of his work in nasḵ have also survived. He was trained in the scripts of ṯoloṯ and nasḵ by ʿAlāʾ-al-dīn Moḥammad Tabrīzī, better known as Atābeg Tabrīzī, a renowned practitioner of the scripts forming the basis of the Iranian-Iraqi tradition: ṯoloṯ, nasḵ, reqʿa rayḥān, moḥaqqaq, and tawqīʿ; ʿAlī-Reżā probably had skill in all of these. In addition he appears to have taught himself nastaʿlīq, in which he followed the style of Mīr ʿAlī Heravī to the point that their works are indistinguishable. His professional employment appears to have begun in Qazvīn, where he came in 993/1585 because of the Ottoman invasion of Tabrīz. Initially he lived in Qazvīn for about six years executing inscriptions and album pages. Then around 999/1590-91 he entered the service of the Safavid general Farhād Khan Qarāmānlū, accompanying him on his campaigns for about two years. A calligraphy sample signed ʿAlī-Reżā Tabrīzī and executed in the “yeylāq of Gūrāndašt” may have been produced for Farhād Khan. Soon, however, Shah ʿAbbās requested that ʿAlī-Reżā join his entourage, which he is said to have done on 1 Šawwāl 1001/1 July 1593; he remained in this capacity until Shah ʿAbbās died in 1038/1628-29. Then he appears to have returned to Qazvīn, where he executed inscriptions for the principal mosque. H. Feżāʾelī reports that inscriptions by ʿAlī-Reżā are preserved on a former Safavid palace now serving as police headquarters (šahrbānī) of Qazvīn.
After joining the entourage of Shah ʿAbbās, ʿAlī-Reżā began to sign his works as “al-ʿAbbāsī,” abandoning his former epithet “al-Tabrīzī.” On the occasion of his new appointment he compiled an album of calligraphy samples and paintings for the shah; its name, “Ḵerqat-nāma,” gives the date 1001/1593-94 in the abīad system. His influence and intimacy with Shah ʿAbbās appear to have increased after the move of the court to Isfahan in 1005/1597. Shortly thereafter he appears to have become the ketābdār of ʿAbbās’ library, replacing Ṣādeqī Beg Afšār. For the next two decades he continued to produce album pages, but probably one of his chief responsibilities was designing inscriptions for the projects of Shah ʿAbbās in Isfahan and elsewhere. In 1011/1602-03 he designed inscriptions for the mosque built near the maydān of Isfahan by Maqṣūd Beg and also gold plaques for the tomb of Imam Reżā in Mašhad. The former inscriptions are in ṯoloṯ, the latter in nastaʿlīq. The high esteem in which he was held by Shah ʿAbbās is indicated by the fact that he designed the portal inscriptions for two new mosques erected in Isfahan, Masǰed-e Šayḵ Loṭfallāh in 1012/1603-04 and Masǰed-e Šāh in 1025/1617. He also executed further inscriptions in Mašhad at the shrine of Imam Reżā and the tomb of Ḵᵛāǰa Rabīʿ in 1024/ 1615-16 and 1026/1617-18.
Authors of various taḏkeras have stressed ʿAlī-Reżā’s rivalry with the calligrapher Mīr ʿEmād and suggested his complicity in the latter’s assassination. Although certainly Mīr ʿEmād’s inability to obtain patronage from Shah ʿAbbās may well reflect the opposition of ʿAlī-Reżā, no tangible evidence of ʿAlī-Reżā’s complicity in this murder is cited. Equally obscure are the last years of ʿAlī-Reżā’s life. Presently no known works by him are dated later than 1026/1617-18, although he is said to have lived at least until 1038/1628-29.
Characteristic of the calligraphy of ʿAlī-Reżā is its strong sense of order and proportion. The clarity of his architectural inscriptions makes them more legible than those found on many buildings of the Safavid period. In the portals of Masǰed-e Šāh and Masǰed-e Šayḵ Loṭfallāh a single continuous text is arranged in two levels, which are separated by various devices, e.g., the elongated tail of a yāʾ is employed to underscore the upper level in the text. In both levels the letters are formed of well-designed shapes that give the whole a sense of order. Curiously his own signature is also in two levels with inverted yāʾs used to separate the two portions. The word “ʿAlī” is written above and “Reżā” below, “al-ʿAbbā” below and “sī” above. The elongated inverted yāʾ of the upper portion provides visual drama to the signature. This two-tier arrangement is also found in buildings where the calligraphy was executed by other scribes; ʿAlī-Reżā may have been responsible for the basic design of all these inscriptions. The influence of his style of arrangement can also be found in later Safavid buildings.
The Arts of Islam, London, Hayward Gallery, 1976, no. 247, p. 204.
M. Bayānī, Ḵošnevīsān, pp. 456-61.
H. Feżāʾelī, Aṭlas-e ḵaṭṭ, Isfahan, 1391/1971, pp. 349-50, 497-99, 525-27.
L. Honarfar, Ganǰīna-ye āṯār-e Eṣfahān, Isfahan, 1344 Š./1965, pp. 401, 402, 404, 408-10, 418, 428-29, 437, 442, 468.
Qāżī Aḥmad, pp. 45, 124-26, 153; tr. pp. 16, 17, 33, 35-36, 39, 80-82, 171-73.
(P. P. Soucek)
Originally Published: December 15, 1985
Last Updated: August 2, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 8, p. 880
P. P. Soucek, “ʿALĪ-REŻĀ ABBĀSĪ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/8, p. 880, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ali-reza-abbasi-tabrizi-10th-11th-16th-17th-century-calligrapher-born-and-trained-in-tabriz-but-active-principally-in- (accessed on 30 December 2012).