An album of Baha’i calligraphy including childhood calligraphic exercises by Baha’u’llah and tablets by Baha’u’llah copied by the calligrapher Mishkin Qalam.
Who was Baha’u’llah?
Mirza Husayn ‘Ali Nuri (1817–1892), known as Baha’u’llah, was the founder of the Baha’i faith. Born in Tehran into a prominent family of court officials, his father was one of the most renowned calligraphers of his generation. Calligraphy was an important part of Baha’u’llah’s education and still remains a key means of communication and expression.
This album contains tablets, or letters, from Baha’u’llah to Muhammad Riza Shirazi, who was one of Baha’u’llah’s confidants and accompanied him when he was exiled to Acre, Israel. Nine of these are by the renowned calligrapher Mirza Husayn Isfahani (1826–1912) who was given the title Mishkin Qalam (‘Black’ or ‘Musk-scented Pen’) by the Qajar ruler Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848–1896). Two examples, both signed by Mishkin Qalam and addressed from Baha’u’llah to Muhammad Riza Shirazi, are dated (folio 9) Shaʻban 1308 (March/April 1891) and (f. 4, digitised image 3) 1310 (1892/93). An example of Mishkin Qalam’s calligraphy is the Arabic inscription (f. 19, digitised image 7) Yā Bahāʼ al-abhá (‘O Glory of the Most Glorious’) which has been adopted as a universal Baha’i symbol.
Perhaps the most important items in the album are those written by Baha’u’llah himself. These include childhood exercises (ff. 15 and 16, digitised image 6) and two short letters to Muhammad Riza Shirazi (folio 11/1, digitised image 5) and his son Habibullah Huvayda (folio 11/2, digitised image 5). Baha'is would ask a skilled calligrapher to write out a passage from the writings of Baha’u’llah and then an artist would decorate these in gold and other colours to enhance the beauty of the calligraphy.
This volume was presented to the British Museum by Habibullah Huvayda who became Persian Consul-General in Syria and Palestine ‘for safe-keeping and in memory of my father the late Mohamed Riza Shirazi’ on 21 May 1929.