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Calligraphers use their artistic skills to communicate the Word of God

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The first books were written and illustrated by hand. Many of the most exquisite examples with detailed illustrations were designed for religious use, expressing the Word of God. Those who wrote these books, called calligraphers, were extremely accomplished and highly valued for the skills they developed.

For centuries, the art of calligraphy was one of the most important of all human skills. The ability to communicate through writing carried enormous power and influence. Small elite could read and even fewer could write. To have the ability to write beautifully was to have a very high status. Books were extremely rare, and with the development of the major religions, those rare books that contained the Word of God were considered to be sacred objects.

The codex, a precursor to the book, was made from specially prepared animal skins, known as vellum or parchment. Extremely expensive to create, the skin of a single animal, such as a sheep, provided just one double sheet of the codex, so a sizeable flock was required for a complete book. They were magnificently hand bound in leather, metal, ivory, and other precious materials and were often embellished with jewels, gold, and silver.

Decorations were added to the text to highlight the calligraphy. This helped the readers to find their way around the lengthy texts. In the case of the Bible, for example, the division of the text into chapters and verses did not appear until the thirteenth century, so the use of large, ornamental initials was extremely helpful. Similarly, in manuscripts of the Qu'ran, the earliest adornments were decorative markings, separating the verses. These were followed by designs at the head of individual Surahs (chapters), and to emphasize important passages.

Decorative calligraphy also stressed the importance of the individual letters and words placed on the page. These words were the basis of belief and the unifying factor in many religions. The aim of the calligrapher was to stress

9 Page from the Qu’ran

Artist unknown, c.910

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