ʿALĪ TABRĪZĪ (calligrapher)


ʿALĪ or MĪR ʿALĪ TABRĪZĪ, 8th/14th century calligrapher who is often credited with the invention of the nastaʿlīq script. Little is known about his life except that he was a sayyed and a contemporary of both Tīmūr (d. 807/1405) and the poet Kamāl Ḵoǰandī (d. 803/1400); he is also said to have been a poet. Modern scholars have been uncertain which of the two Mīr ʿAlī Tabrīzīs active in the late 8th/14th century was known as wāżeʿ al-aṣl (the inventor of the archetype). Most have assumed that it was ʿAlī b. Elyās Tabrīzī, the scribe of a manuscript, now in the British Library (Add. 18113) and renowned for its paintings, of Ḵᵛāǰū Kermānī’s poetry; but M. Bayānī has demonstrated that the Mīr ʿAlī in question was ʿAlī b. Ḥasan Tabrīzī. This information is given in a colophon written by his most famous student, Jaʿfar Tabrīzī, who identifies his teacher as Mīr ʿAlī b. Ḥasan Tabrīzī. Despite Mīr ʿAlī’s fame, the sole known extant manuscript by his hand appears to be a copy of Neẓāmī’s Ḵosrow o Šīrīn now in the Freer Gallery, Washington. In the damaged colophon, of which the date is illegible, the scribe gives his name as ʿAlī b. Ḥasan Solṭānī and the place of transcription as Tabrīz. It is not known for whom ʿAlī b. Ḥasan prepared this manuscript, but his calligraphic tradition was perpetuated by scribes working in Herat for the Timurids. Jaʿfar Tabrīzī, also known as Bāysonḡorī, wrote in a style closely analogous to that of Mīr ʿAlī, as did his contemporary Aẓhar Solṭānī. This canon of proportion was also transmitted to their students and other later scribes. The high regard of Herat calligraphers for the writing of Mīr ʿAlī can be seen from the didactic poem on calligraphy composed by Solṭān-ʿAlī Mašhadī (d. 926/1529); he not only credits Mīr ʿAlī with the invention of nastaʿlīq, but claims that the latter was skilled in “all styles of writing,” adding that both his calligraphy and his verse were notable for their equilibrium. The respect of Herat calligraphers for Mīr ʿAlī’s work continued into the 10th/16th century. Mīr ʿAlī Heravī (d. 951/1554-55), a scribe active in Herat, Mašhad, and Bukhara, copied Mīr ʿAlī’s works and praised him in his own essay on calligraphy, Madad al-ḵoṭūṭ. Indeed ʿAlī Heravī’s manner of writing small-scale nastaʿlīq bears a striking resemblance to the hand of ʿAlī Tabrīzī; his use of Mīr ʿAlī’s canon of proportion transmitted it to later generations.


M. Bayānī, Ḵošnevīsān, Tehran, 1345-46 Š./1966-67, pp. 120, 441-46.

J. Maškūr, Tārīḵ-eTabrīz tā pāyān-e qarn-e nohom-e heǰrī, Tabrīz, 1352 Š./1973, p. 829.

Qāżī Aḥmad, pp. 57, 72; tr., pp. 22, 100, 116.

P. Soucek, “The Arts of Calligraphy,” The Arts of the Book in Central Asia: 14th-16th centuries, Paris, 1979, p. 18, pl. I.

(P. P. Soucek)

Originally Published: December 15, 1985

Last Updated: August 1, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 8, p. 881

Cite this entry:

P. P. Soucek, “ʿALĪ  TABRĪZĪ (calligrapher),” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/8, p. 881, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ali-tabrizi-calligrapher (accessed on 30 December 2012).