EBRĀHĪM ṬEHRĀNĪ, also known as Mīrzā ʿAmū, a calligrapher specializing in the nastaʿlīq script. One of the principal students of Mīrzā Ḡolām-Reżā Eṣfahānī (d. 1307/1889-90), he was active during the reign of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah Qājār (r. 1264-1313/1848-96). Although some albums of his calligraphy are also known, Ebrāhīm is chiefly remembered as the designer of architectural inscriptions for religious structures in Tehran, Ray, and Qom. Dated examples of his work range from 1291/1874 to 1308/1890-91.

Ebrāhīm’s career provides insight into the role of calligraphy in architecture during the reign of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah as well as into broader questions of this period’s architectural patronage. He worked for the Shah as well as for other high court officials and participated in the decoration of the Shah ʿAbd-al-ʿAẓīm complex and the shrine of Ebn Bābawayh/Bābūya, both in Ray, the shrine of Fāṭema in Qom, and the Sepahsālār madrasa in Tehran (Bayānī, Ḵošnevīsān I, pp. 18-19; Rāhjīrī, pp. 26-27).

Inscriptions designed by Ebrāhīm Ṭehrānī exemplify the increasing prominence of nastaʿlīq script in architectural epigraphy during the Qajar period (Hillenbrandt, p. 358). At Qom he prepared an inscription for the north ayvān of the ṣaḥn-e ʿaṭīq of the shrine of Fāṭema. Its text is a Persian poem with an internal date of 1301/1883-84, which commemorates Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah’s financing of repairs to this ayvān and its moqarnas to embellish the sanctuary courtyard (Modarresī, I, pp. 73-74, pl. 42; Fayż, I, pp. 510-12, 514). Inscriptions on silver door panels in the shrine of Fāṭema at Qom dated to 1310/1892-93 and 1314/1896-97, which Mahdī Bayānī credits to Ebrāhīm Ṭehrānī, are apparently by a different calligrapher named Mīrzā Moḥammad-Ebrāhīm Fayż Naqqāš-bāšī Qomī (Bayānī, Ḵošnevīsān I, no. 32; Fayż, I, pp. 660-63).

Both Ebrāhīm’s earliest known architectural inscription dated to 1291/1874 and his latest dated to 1308/1890-91 are found on buildings belonging to the shrine complex of Shah ʿAbd-al-ʿAẓīm in Ray, the burial site of several Alids, which was the object of benefactions by Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah and his high officials (Karīmān, I, pp. 384-99; Moṣṭafawī, I, pp. 148-61, 291-94, 373-75). Ebrāhīm’s first inscription, described by Mehdī Bayānī as his masterpiece, was on the ayvān of the shrine of Ḥamza b. Mūsā al-Kāẓem, a structure of Safavid origin which Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah refurbished several times. He had redecorated its dome in 1273/1856-57 and repaired the pierced metal screen (żarīḥ) around its cenotaph in 1283/1866-67. Then in 1291/1874, he ordered its ayvān to be decorated with mirror-work (āʾīna-kārī). This project was entrusted to one of his key officials, Dūst Moḥammad Khan Moʿayyer-al-Mamālek, who was overseer of royal workshops as well as treasurer and head of the mint (Moṣṭafawī, I, p. 161; Bāmdād, Rejāl I, pp. 493-500). Finally, in 1304/1886-87, Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah ordered the construction of a shrine over the graves of two Alids, Ṭāher and his son Moṭahhar, descendants of the fourth imam, ʿAlī b. Ḥosayn. Ebrāhīm Ṭehrānī provided inscriptions for the entrance portal of this structure (Karīmān, I, pp. 397-98; Moṣṭafawī, I, p. 161; Bayānī, Ḵošnevīsān I, p. 19).

A series of Koranic excerpts executed by Ebrāhīm Ṭehrānī in nastaʿlīq script surrounds the courtyard portico of the Ebn Bābūya shrine. The main structure dates from the period of Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah Qājār, but it has later additions. Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah financed repairs of a nearby tomb-tower from the Saljuq period known as the Borj-e Ṭoḡrol (q.v.) in 1301/1883-84, and Ebrāhīm’s inscription may be of similar date. Ebrāhīm may also have had a personal interest in this sanctuary, which served as the burial place of his teacher, Ḡolām-Reżā Eṣfahānī (Karīmān, I, pp. 424-26; Moṣṭafawī, I, p. 243; Rāhjīrī, p. 26).

Ebrāhīm Ṭehrānī and Ḡolām-Reżā Eṣfahānī collaborated in preparing nastaʿlīq inscriptions for the Sepahsālār Mosque-Madrasa complex in Tehran. Their work is contained in tile revetments dated to 1302/1884-85 prepared by the tile-makers Mahdī and Ṣādeq Kāšānī. Eṣfahānī’s calligraphy is found on the complex’s entrance portal located on its western side. Ebrāhīm’s signature appears on the eastern façade of its courtyard, just below a roof-top pavilion or goldasta (Saḥāb, p. 40, n. 1, p. 46, no. 1; Moṣṭafawī, I, p. 97).

It is noteworthy that in both the Ebn Bābūya shrine and the Sepahsālār complex Ebrāhīm uses nastaʿlīq calligraphy to execute religious texts in Arabic. Since the Safavid period nastaʿlīq has been used in architectural epigraphy to transcribe Persian poetry and is hence often arranged in a series of cartouches encapsulating each verse or hemistich, and a similar scheme is also used for Arabic poetry. Citations from the Koran, Hadith, or foundation inscriptions were, however, customarily written in ṯolṯ (for examples see Honarfar, Eṣfahān, pp. 685-700). Ebrāhīm Ṭehrānī’s use of nastaʿlīq thus represents a broadening of the scope of its application to architecture.


Bibliography: (For cited works not given in detail, see “Short References.”)

ʿA. Fayż, Ganjīna-ye āṯār-e Qom, 2 vols., Qom, 1349 Š./1970.

R. Hillenbrand, “The Role of Tradition in Qajar Religious Architecture,” in Qajar Iran, ed. E. Bosworth and C. Hillenbrand, Edinburgh, 1983.

Ḥ. Karīmān, Ray-e bāstān, 2 vols., Tehran, 1345-49 Š./1966-70.

Ḥ. Modarresī Ṭabāṭābaʾī, Torbat-e pākān, 2 vols., Qom, n.d., I, pp. 73-74, pl. 42.

M.-T. Moṣṭafawī, Āṯār-e tārīḵī-e Ṭehrān, Tehran, 1361 Š./1982.

ʿA.ṟ Rāhjīrī, “Taḏkera-ye ḵōšnevīsān-e moʿāṣer” in ʿA.-M. Īrānī, Peydāyeš-e ḵaṭṭ o ḵaṭṭāṭān, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967. A. Saḥāb, Tārīḵ-e madrasa-ye ʿālī-e Sepahsālār, Tehran, 1376/1956.

(Priscilla P. Soucek)

Originally Published: December 15, 1997

Last Updated: December 8, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol.VIII, Fasc. 1, pp. 78-79