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Ibn al-Bawwab [Abū’l-Ḥasan ‛Alī ibn Hilāl al-Bawwāb]locked

(d Baghdad, 1022).

Arab calligrapher and illuminator. He began as a house decorator but turned to calligraphy and refined the ‘proportioned script’ developed a century earlier by Ibn Muqla, in which letters were measured in terms of dots, circles and semicircles. An intimate of court circles in Baghdad, Ibn al-Bawwab was appointed librarian to the Buyid ruler Baha’ al-Dawla (reg 998–1012) at Shiraz. There Ibn al-Bawwab calligraphed the volume missing from a Koran manuscript penned by his predecessor so perfectly that the patron was unable to distinguish the new work from the original. In addition to an epistle and didactic poem on penmanship, Ibn al-Bawwab is said to have copied 64 manuscripts of the Koran, but only one survives: a manuscript copied at Baghdad in 1000–01 (Dublin, Chester Beatty Lib., MS. 1431). The small volume contains 286 folios (trimmed size 175×135 mm). Each page of text has 15 lines in naskh script written with a straight-cut reed pen to produce letters of uniform thickness. At the beginning and end of the volume are five double folios of illumination and tables in which brown, white, green and crimson are added to the sepia, blue and gold used on the text pages. The graceful flowing script and the delicately balanced ornament show this manuscript to be a masterpiece of Islamic calligraphy (see Islamic art, §III, 2(iii)(c) and fig.).


  • D. S. Rice: The Unique Ibn al-Bawwab Manuscript in the Chester Beatty Library (Dublin, 1955/R Paris, 1972) [with facs.]
  • Qur’āns and Bindings from the Chester Beatty Library (exh. cat. by D. James; London, Islam. Cult. Cent., 1980), nos 18–19
  • Y. Tabbaa: ‘The Transformation of Arabic Writing: Part I, Qur’ānic Calligraphy’, Ars Orientalis, 21 (1992), pp. 119–48
  • D. J. Roxburgh: ‘On the Transmission and Reconstruction of Arabic Calligraphy: Ibn al-Bawwab and History’, i) Studia islamica, ii) Studies in Islamic Art, 96 (2003), pp. 39–53
  • S. S. Blair: ‘The Standardization of Round Scripts under Ibn al-Bawwab’, Islamic Calligraphy (Edinburgh, 2006), pp. 160–73
Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1954–)