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A KHATT-I NAKHUNI (FINGER NAIL) CALLIGRAPHIC ALBUM
A KHATT-I NAKHUNI (FINGER NAIL) CALLIGRAPHIC ALBUM
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A KHATT-I NAKHUNI (FINGER NAIL) CALLIGRAPHIC ALBUM

SIGNED ALAWIAH, QAJAR IRAN, DATED AH 1313/1895-6 AD

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A KHATT-I NAKHUNI (FINGER NAIL) CALLIGRAPHIC ALBUM
SIGNED ALAWIAH, QAJAR IRAN, DATED AH 1313/1895-6 AD
Arabic prayers in relief work on cream paper, 29ff. each folio with a line of elegant nastal'liq, within gold and polychome rules, with gold and polychrome illuminated marginal panels, final folio signed and dated, bound in blue velvet with gilt lattice, in blue case
Text panel 8 x 13in. (20.5 x 33cm.); folio 9 x 14in. (23 x 35.5cm.)
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Lot Essay

Our album is created by the female calligrapher Alawiah, about whom little is known. The art historian Mohammad Ali Karimzadeh Tabrizi references two albums by Alawiah, known for her use of the nakhuni technique, as a calligrapher in the “soprano” style of nastaliq. The first album was sold in these Rooms 11 April 1989, lot 25. Signed and dated AH 1313/1895-6 AD, the album was written in the city of Qom. The second album noted by Tabrizi is simply signed “Alawiah 1313” and is recorded to have contained nastaliq calligraphy along with simple drawings (Mohammad Ali Karimzadeh Tabrizi, Lives and Arts of Old Painters of Iran & a Selection of Masters from the Ottoman and Indian regions, London, vol.3, 1997, p.1471). Lacking any simple drawings in the nakhuni technique, it would appear that our album represents a third known album by the calligrapher.

Created with no ink, pigments, gold or brushes, the nakhuni technique is an extremely elegant and minimalistic method which only involves a sheet of plain paper and the artist’s fingers. The few existing articles on the subject of nakhuni provide no evidence of this technique being practiced prior to the 19th century, although the secondary sources usually indicate a rough date for the emergence of the technique as the late Safavid period (1501-1736). Interestingly, one of the most relevant and significant albums of nakhuni known is at the Golestan Palace, which exhibits the skills of a female royal artist, Princess Fakhri, the daughter of Fath ‘Ali Shah, who was also known as Fakhr-i Jahan Khanum (Pride of the World). The Niavaran Palace in Tehran was constructed for her by Fath ‘Ali Shah. Meanwhile, we know that the calligrapher ‘Ali Akbar Darwish created no less than three albums of nakhuni for Nasir al-Din Shah in the mid-19th century (Shiva Mihan, "Fingernail Art (I): Three-dimensional Calligraphy and Drawing in the 19th-Century", (Part I: Iran), Digital Orientalist, December 2020, https://digitalorientalist.com/2020/12/11/fingernail-art-three-dimensional-calligraphy-and-drawing-in-19th-century/).

A single signed page of khatt-i nakhuni calligraphy from the Qajar period was sold in these Rooms on 7 April 2021, lot 28.

For more information on the history of khatt-i nakhuni please see Shiva Mihan, op. cit., and "Fingernail Art (II): Three-dimensional Calligraphy and Drawing in the 19th-Century", (Part II: Neighbouring Countries and Contemporary artists), Digital Orientalist, February 2021, https://digitalorientalist.com/2021/02/05/fingernail-art-three-dimensional-calligraphy-and-drawing-in-the-19th-century/. The third part will be published late October 2021.

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