A Little History of an Ottoman Master Calligrapher
1171/1758 – 1241/1826
This article was written as a form of author’s personal tribute to Mustafa Râkım, an Ottoman master calligrapher during the time of Ottoman Empire. In the world of Islamic calligraphy, there are cultural and technical terms in Arabic and Turkish, whereby the original native Arabic text are commonly transliterated in English-Latin to accommodate pronunciation. However in this article, certain Turkish-Latin spelling are being retained based on the original resources. Dates indicated are from both Islamic Hijri calendar (AH) and Gregorian calendar (AD). Reference of important terms, along with other necessary information can be found at the end of this article.
With this article, the author took inspiration from the craftsmanship of Mustafa Râkım, and as a form of tribute, developed series of modern graphic recreations to be publicly shared which is featured to a link at the end of this article.
Mustafa Râkım was born in 1171/1758, in Ünye, a large town district located to the west city of Ordu province in the Black Sea region of Turkey. As the youngest of three sons, he completed his primary education in his hometown, and at an early age, his father Mehmed Kaptan, brought him to Istanbul to live with his elder brother. There he received his religious education and learned the art of calligraphy.
Mustafa Râkım received his religious education and learned the art of calligraphy in sülüs (thuluth) and nesih (naskhi) scripts under his elder brother, İsmail Zühdi (d. 1221/1806). His interests and talent in painting was further developed, and he advanced his calligraphy skills under Üçüncü Derviş Ali (d. 1200/1786), known as Derviş Ali the 3rd. He graduated as a master calligrapher in 1769 (12 years of age). Being advanced among his peers due to his achievements in calligraphy, his fame became a widespread and he began to give writing lessons to notable statesmen.
İsmail Zühdi, was one of the important calligraphers of his era and graduated under calligrapher Ahmet Hifzi Efendi. Also known as İsmail Zühdi the 2nd, he’s known to be a famous Ottoman court calligrapher teaching calligraphy at the Imperial Palace (Enderûn-ı Hümâyûn) under Sultan Mustafa III (r. 1757-1774) and held that position until he died.
As a painter, Mustafa Râkım presented a portrait painting to Sultan Selim III (r. 1789-1807), which was greatly admired. The Sultan rewarded him with an appointment of müderris (professor), and later appointed him as palace designer for the Ottoman currency, as well as the State Tughra officer.
Mustafa Râkım taught calligraphy to the royal princes in the Saray (palace) School, including Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808-1839) as his pupil. Upon his enthronement, Sultan Mahmud II studied sülüs and celi sülüs scripts with Râkım. In 1809, Râkım was promoted to the rank of mullah, awarded with the title of kadi (judge of Islamic law) of Izmir. Over the time, Râkım also received several other distinguished positions including the title of kazasker (also kadıasker: supreme judge) under Anatolian military servicein 1238/1823.
The tughra, known as an imperial monogram or calligram, is a seal and a signature of a Sultan. It is used on various imperial official documents, as well as on coins, flags and official buildings. Originally spelled as “tugrag”, the end sound of “g” was silenced in Anatolian dialect when such pronunciation became widely used. In other terms, “tugra” also means “sign” in Persian and “charter” in Arabic. Historically, tughras comprises of Ottoman Sultan’s names and titles whereby during the reign of Ottoman Empire, these were only used as the hallmark of sultanate. However, these are declaratively used nowadays.
The tughrakesh is a calligrapher that drew the imperial monogram or calligram, into a form of calligraphic cipher emblem. This means that the tughrakesh is a particular calligrapher especially skilled in creating a code of disguised letterings to construct the name or title into an emblem. Among the masters of tughra, the most remarkable tughrakeshes in history are Mustafa Râkım Efendi, Sami Efendi (1253/1838 – 1330/1912), and Ismail Hakki Altunbezer (1289/1873 – 1365/1946).
In the beginning of the 19th century, Mustafa Râkım advanced perfection in refining the construction of tughra. He made important innovations to the tughra into a definitive form. These innovations involved 3 aspects of design measures: writing, style/movement and shape. He revolutionised the shape and dimension of the calligraphic composition, which transformed into a masterpiece of proportion. The formation of tughra, which he composed for Sultan Mahmud II was also adopted by the following succeeding Sultans, with changes only made in the names. This tughra composition was also applied on the late Ottoman coins and fermans of the later Sultans. Râkım’s style of tughra appeared frequently on monumental inscriptions.
Mustafa Râkım being one of the most eminent calligraphers of his time played a critical role in the history of Turkish calligraphy. His works are greatly admired by calligraphers and connoisseurs of the art. He was especially well known for perfecting magnified scripts known as celi (jali: large), in sülüs and ta’lik (ta’liq) scripts. Râkım’s distinctive style in celi sülüs (jali thuluth) was remarkably known for its softness and elegance in its movement. His works was followed through by the great calligrapher Sami Efendi (1253/1838 – 1330/1912), whereby new aesthetic values were further achieved and had great influence on arising calligraphers up to the present day.
There was a time where important calligraphers notably, Ali bin Yahya Sufi (d. 882/1478) and Ahmed Şemseddin Karahisârî (875/1470 – 963/1556) laid the foundations of celi sülüs script. It went through a long period of stagnation until Mustafa Râkım. In the history of calligraphy, the most beautiful form and proportion of the sülüs-nesih script were reached by Râkım. Apart from studying the writings of his elder brother, he was inspired by the finest works of past masters, Sheikh Hamdullah (833/1429 – 926/1520) and especially Hafiz Osman (1052/1642 – 1110/1698). He studied and examined carefully the beautiful writings of these masters, and selected the best letters, gathered the elegance and finesse of those writings and harmonised them into celi sülüs. Râkım elevated the scripts of nesih, sülüs and especially celi sülüs, to a level of aesthetic excellence in aspects of lettering craftsmanship as well as complex design compositions. This was developed in an approach whereby the principles of sülüs script developed by Hafiz Osman were applied to celi sülüs script. Through linear and stacked formations, the forms of celi sülüs, emphasised on the beauty of letters to achieve organic integrity through balancing and harmonising of gaps and spaces formed in the layering or interlacing composition by filling with reading, decoration and important signs. His deep understanding in rules of visual perspectives has transformed the characters of his pens and lettering bodies of his celi works to be seen clearly from far distances.
In about 1225/1809, Mustafa Râkım invented his own signature style in signing off his works. Conventionally, inscriptions in celi sülüs and on tughras were signed in tevki (tawqi’) script. However, Râkım combined elements of sülüs and tevki scripts in his signature composition, which became a style followed until today.
Mustafa Râkım produced many famous calligraphic works present in the state as well as private collections including various epigraphs and epitaphs. Through the years of 1815-1819, it was the Râkım’s period of maturity where his works excelled the best in the field of celi sülüs. Apart from that, he was also successful in producing works in ta’lik and celi ta’lik (jali ta’liq) scripts.
Labeled as “genius calligrapher”, Mustafa Râkım’s works could be found in many places including the various fountains, tombstones, Topkapi Palace, as well as private museums and calligraphy collections. He wrote inscriptions for the gates of hazire (enclosed cemetery) in Fatih quarter in Istanbul, on the tombstone of Çelebi Mustafa Reşid Efendi, Huseyin Hamid Efendi, as well as inscriptions and decorations for his brother’s tomb, İsmail Zühdi. Notable writings could also be found in Topkapi Palace Treasury Kethudasi Room, Miskinler Tekke and Fountain, and Bascuhadar Seyyid Omer Aga Fountain.
Some of his famous compositions could be found in ledger writings on the tomb, fountain and interior walls of the mausoleum of Sultan Mahmud II’s mother at Fatih Nakşidil Sultan Mausoleum, and some others like plates within Hagia Sofia Mosque and Cihangir Mosque. The inscriptions on the Bâbüsselâm Gate of Topkapı Palace, as well as Nebe Sura (Surah An-Naba’) on the frieze of Nusretiye Mosque in Tophane which he did in his last years of illness, are known to be among the beautiful works of Mustafa Râkım which reflects his innovative mastery in the script. The Hilye-i Saadet, which he wrote with different arrangements of scripts in musnad, celi sülüs, sülüs, and nesih, along with stencils of his calligraphic works in celi scripts are under the collection of Istanbul Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. Ayvansarâyî Hadîkatü’l-Cevâmi, one of his well-known works written in nesih script, is kept in Library of Istanbul University, and an ayet (verse) in form of tughra is kept by The Sabanci Collection. All these became specimens of critical importance in the development of celi writing style in Turkish calligraphy history.
Among the students trained under Mustafa Râkım were Sultan Mahmud II, Mehmed Haşim and Mehmed Şâkir Recâi, who became masters among calligraphers whose works have survived to the present day. As a calligrapher, Râkım was specially regarded in equal league with the genius architect Mimar Sinan. He married a palace lady and they did not have children from this marriage. He suffered a stroke and was paralysed at the end of his life. He passed away on 15 Sya’ban, 1241 / 25 March, 1826.
Mustafa Râkım also adopted sufism in being a devotee of Naqshbandi religious sect and was an owner of a foundation. Based on his will, he was buried in Karagümrük of Fatih district in Istanbul, right next to Atik Ali Pasha Mosque. His wife Emine Hanim, built a tomb over his grave as well as a medrese (Muslim seminary, school of theology) named after him, was constructed beside it. The foundation of the building was prepared during the last years of his illness on 1 Cemâziyelevvel 1240 / 22 December 1824 under the archives of General Directorate of Foundations. In 1869, it was known that twenty students were taught at the medrese. There are two graves to be found inside the tomb. The wooden sarcophagus, which was renewed in 1996, belongs to Mustafa Râkım Efendi and the marble sarcophagus with baroque decoration belongs to his student Mehmed Haşim Efendi, who passed away in 1845.
About Sultan Mahmud II (1199/1785 – 1255/1839):
Mahmud bin Abdülhamid was born in Istanbul on 13 Ramazan, 1199 / 20 July, 1785. He is the son of the 27th Ottoman sultan: Abdülhamid I (r. 1774-1789). When his father died during his early age, he was brought up under his uncle, Sultan Selim III (r. 1789-1807). He ascended the throne as the 30th Ottoman sultan and held the sultanate until his death.
As a prince, Mahmud learned sülüs and nesih scripts under Kebecizâde Mehmed Vasfi (d. 1247/1831). He is known to have written 2 copies of The Quran in nesih script. Upon his enthronement, he began studying calligraphy under Mustafa Râkım. He has written nearly 40 pieces of levhas (lawha) in celi sülüs. Also gifted in musical composition, Sultan Mahmud II showed genuine talent and mastery as reflected in his writing practice sheets.
Faizal Somadi/2019 June 16/1440 Syawal 12.
- aklam-i sitte: Arabic: aqlam al-sittah. A term for a group of classic six scripts or six pens, known as: Sülüs, Nesih, Muhakkak, Reyhani, Tevki and Rika’.
- ayet: Arabic: ayat / ayah. A verse or sentence composing the surahs in the Quran.
- besmele: Arabic: basmallah / bismillah. It is the first phrase in the Quran, which also appears as an invocation to all the suras or Quranic chapters except for one: Surah At-Tawbah. It is a form of incipit to the complete phrase bi-smi llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm meaning: “In the name of God, the Most Gracious/Compassionate, the Most Merciful”.
- celi sülüs: Arabic: jali thuluth. Enlarged model of sülüs script.
- celi ta’lik: Arabic: jali ta’liq. Enlarged model of ta’lik script.
- celi: Arabic: jeli / jali / jaly. Scripts written larger than their normal size, written with pens of broader nibs, or enlarged using squaring techniques. This term is not applicable for celi divani, a script that is not enlarged technically but written with specific features.
- cuz: Arabic: juz / juzuk. One part out of 30 equal divisional parts of the Quran.
- delail: A book containing ayets, hadiths and prayers. Some of these books contain visual miniatures of the Kaaba (Cubic House, Muslims’ holy site for prayers direction) and the tomb of the Prophet.
- divani: Arabic: diwani. A script that evolved from Persian’s older version of ta’lik. During the period of Ottoman Turkey, it was strictly used for the Imperial Council of State.
- efendi: variant: effendi / effendy. An Ottoman Turkish term originally derived from Greek, meaning Lord or Master. It is a title of respect or courtesy, equivalent to the English title ‘Sir’. Commonly used in the Ottoman Empire and Byzantine Empire, it usually follows the personal name.
- en’am: A small book containing the En’am Sura (Surah Al-An’am), the sixth sura of the Qur’an, together with some prayers.
- ferman: Imperial edict, a Turkish royal mandate, decree or order.
- hilye: Arabic: hilya / hilyah. A term for a piece of calligraphic composition in a specific design structure that contain the descriptive features and qualities of Prophet Muhammad. This is a form of tradition whereby the descriptive content is narrated by the Prophet’s companion: Ali ibn Abi Talib.
- icazet: Arabic: ijazah. A diploma awarded by the teacher to a student of calligraphy. This award will be presented to the student after the examination of the student’s calligraphy by the presence of several teachers of the art. This is a form of authorization for the calligraphy student to sign his name on his work. It is usually written in rika’ script, also known as icazet script.
- istif: A complex calligraphic composition which features words made of letters arranged in a stacking, piling, layering or even interlacing manner.
- karalama: English: scribble, doodle, blackening. A term given to describe a student’s writing exercises, usually made of certain letters or words done in his spare time in practicing the art of calligraphy.
- kazasker: variant: kadıasker. The head of the kadis (governors of various districts) in the Ottoman State. The kazasker participated in the councils of the viziers held under the chairmanship of the Sadrazam (Grand Vizier).
- kit’a: Small calligraphic work usually in rectangular format. It is generally comprised of 2 scripts, large and small, or a composition solely in ta’lik script.
- levha: Arabic: lawha. Large-scale calligraphic composition usually made up of celi sülüs and celi ta’lik scripts which can be framed and hung onto walls. Basically it is known as a plate or panel that contain visual craftwork.
- muhakkak: Arabic: muhaqqaq. A script written with a nib of approximately 2mm. It is well known for the use of transcribing the Quran in large formats up to the 16th century. Also known as a signature script in writing besmele. It is one of the six-pen or six scripts group.
- mullah: an educated Muslim trained in religious law and doctrine and usually holding an official post.
- nesih: Arabic: naskhi / nasakh. A script written with a nib of approximately 1mm. A style particularly favored in Ottoman calligraphy for transcribing of the Quran. It is one of the six-pen or six scripts group.
- reyhani: Arabic: rayhani. A script which is a smaller model of muhakkak, written with a nib of approximately 1mm. It is well known for the use of transcribing the Quran in small formats up to the 16th century. It is one of the six-pen or six scripts group.
- rika’: Arabic: riqa’. A script, which is a smaller model of tevki, written with a nib of approximately 1mm. It is mainly used for official matters and rarely for copying works. It is one of the six-pen or six scripts group.
- sülüs: Arabic: thuluth. A script written with a nib of approximately 2mm, usually accompanied with nesih script. A styled particularly favoured by the Ottoman calligraphers. It is one of the six-pen or six scripts group.
- sura: Arabic: surah. A chapter that contain verses in the Quran. There are a total of 114 suras in the Quran.
- ta’lik: Arabic ta’liq. A delicate script written with a nib of approximately 2mm, commonly used for writing kit’as. Unrelated to the same name for the old Persian script.
- tevki: Arabic: tawqi’. A script written with a nib of approximately 2mm. It is mainly used for official matters and rarely for copying works. It is one of the six-pen or six scripts group.
- tughra: variant: tuğrâ / tugra. A sultan’s calligraphic signature emblem, also known as imperial monogram or calligram
- tughrakesh: variant: tugrakeş. Writer of tughras.
- Derman, M. Ugur. Masterpieces of Ottoman Calligraphy from the Sakip Sabanci Museum. Sabanci University, Sakip Sabanci Museum. 2004.
- Sakip Sabanci Museum Collection of the Arts of the Book and Calligraphy. Exhibition Catalogue. Istanbul. Sabanci University, Sakip Sabanci Museum. 2012.
- Bir Fotografin Aynasinda, Istanbul’un Meshur Hattatlari. Through the Mirror of a Picture, Eminent Calligraphers of Istanbul. Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyesi Kultur A.S. Yayinlari. Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Culture Co. Publications. 2010. First Edition.
- Guven, Irem. “Aesthetical Seal of Sultan: Tughra.” The Handicraft. The Handicraft Magazine by Ismek, the Art and Vocational Training Courses of The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. 2013. 16th Edition. P 8-11.
- “Ünye” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 04 June 2019.<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ünye>
- Yazansoy, Cenap and Karahan, Abdulkadir. Sabanci Hat Kolleksiyonu, Collection of Calligraphy. Akbank’in Bir Kultur Hizmeti. Istanbul. Guzel Sanatlar Matbaasi A.S. 1985.
- Berk, Süleyman. “Râkım Efendi, Mustafa. (1758-1826)” Islam Ansiklopedisi. Turkiye Diyanet Vakfi. Online Google Translation. 14 June 2019. <https://islamansiklopedisi.org.tr/Râkım-efendi-mustafa> Original resource: TDV Islamic Encyclopedia. Istanbul First edition. Volume 34. P 428-429.
- Çobanoğlu, Ahmet Vefa. “Râkım Efendi Medrasesh And Tomb” Islam Ansiklopedisi. Turkiye Diyanet Vakfi. Online Google Translation. 14 June 2019. <https://islamansiklopedisi.org.tr/Râkım-efendi-medresesi-ve-turbesi> Original resource: TDV Islamic Encyclopedia. Istanbul First edition. Volume 34. P 430-431.
- Bacaci, Sabri. “Calligrapher Mustafa Râkım Efendi” ÜNDER (Ünyeliler Derneği). Archives Specialist, General Directorate of State Archives Ottoman Archives Department of Sultanahmet / Istanbul. 19 April 2009. Online Google Translation. 14 June 2019 <http://www.unyeliler.com/page.asp?Read=18>
- Mert, Talip. “The Endowment of Calligrapher Mustafa Râkım Efendi.” The Handicraft. The Handicraft Magazine by Ismek, the Art and Vocational Training Courses of The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. 2013. 16th Edition. P 130-135.
- Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 16 June 2019.<https://en.wikipedia.org>
Faizal Somadi/2019 June 16/1440 Syawal 12.
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R for Rakim – Gizlipa Series
These R for Rakim Gizlipa Series is a personal tribute to Ottoman Master Calligrapher Mustafa Rakim (1758-1826) from the author (Faddho/Faizal Somadi). Inspired by the craftsmanship of Mustafa Râkım, original letterings are taken after his original mufradat (basic letterings) manual. It is digitally vector-traced and composed into series of modern graphic recreations to be publicly shared as graphic wallpapers. There are a total of 24 pieces of wallpaper designs where everyone could enjoy these use on their digital devices. These works are basically the author’s practise on graphic arts as well as an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of the elements of classical Arabic/Islamic calligraphy through digital intervention. We hope through these, calligraphy enthusiasts may be exposed to essences of classical calligraphy by past masters with deeper appreciation.