Calligraphers’ signatures in Square Kufic

Article by Dr. Mamoun Sakkal
February 25, 2013

Monograms, or personal name designs, constitute a special category of logos intended for personal, rather than public, use. However, such designs are sometimes used in public when utilized as the calligraphers’ signature or when designed for royalty and other public figures, such as Yusuf Ahmad’s monograms for Kings Fuad I and Farouq of Egypt among others, and my designs for the seal of al-Quraysh/Makhzoumi shown in the logos section of

We find such signatures of calligraphers associated with Square Kufic tile work in several Islamic buildings in Iran from the 14th and 17th centuries (Figure 1, a–f). Each one of these signature cartouches starts with the word ‘amal (the work of) followed by the tile maker’s name. In the case of the Khawaja Ahmad Yasavi’s mausoleum in Turkistan (Figure 1, d), the name also includes the word Shirazi (from Shiraz), indicating the movement of artisans in the Timurid period, a situation also encountered in connection with the Square Kufic calligraphy in the Bibi Khanum Mosque in Samarkand. The Shirazi master Shams Abdulwahab displayed more virtuosity by designing his signature in a hexagon rather than the more common square shape as in the Imamiyya Madrasa, the Friday Mosque, and the Hakim Mosque, all in Isfahan (Figure 1, a, e, f), or the rectangular shape as in the second signature of master Muhammad Umar al-Shaikh in the Imamiyya Madrasa and the signature of master Hasan Karun in the Friday Mosque of Isfahan [1] (Figure 1, b, c).


Figure 1.  Calligraphers’ signatures in Square Kufic calligraphy:

a. Amal Muhammad bin ʿUmar al-Shaikh (Work of Muhammad son of ʿUmar al-Shaikh), North iwan vault, Imamiyya Madrasa, Isfahan, 1325.
b.  Amal Muhammad ʿUmar al-Shaikh (Work of Muhammad ʿUmar al-Shaikh), South iwan vault, Imamiyya Madrasa, Isfahan, 1325.
c. Amal al-abd Hasan Karun (Work of the slave [of God] Hasan Karun), soffit of the arch between the iwan and the prayer hall, Suffeh-i ʿUmar Mosque or Madrasah, Friday Mosque, Isfahan, 768–778/1366–1377.
d. Amal Shams Abdulwahab Shirazi al-banna (Work of Shams Abdulwahab Shirazi the builder), drum border of dome of the burial vault, mausoleum of Khawaja Ahmad Yasavi, Turkistan, 799–801/1397–1399.
e.  Amal Muhammad Amin ibn Muhammad Muʾmin (Work of the Muhammad Amin son of Muhammad Muʾmin), northwest iwan, Friday Mosque, Isfahan, 17th century.
f. Amal Muhammad Ali bin ustaz Ali Babak/Bank/Beg (Work of Muhammad Ali son of master Ali Babak/Bank/Beg), over west iwan, Hakim Mosque, Isfahan, 1071/1660.
g. Self-monogram by Ernst Herzfeld, before 1948.
h. Self-monogram by Morteza Momayez, Tehran, Iran, 1959. For design analysis see Figure 2.80, h.
i. Self-monogram by Issam el-Said, London, England, 1962.
j. Self-monogram by Emin Barin, Istanbul, Turkey, before 1978 (probably between 1960 and 1970).
k. Self-monogram by Wajih Nahle, Beirut, Lebanon, before 1978.
l. Self-monogram by Muhammad Kamil Faris, Aleppo, Syria, ca. 1980.
m. Self-monogram by Ismail Mughadam, Iran, 1985.
n. Self-monogram by Abdulkader Arnaout, Damascus, Syria, ca. 1990.
o. Self-monogram by Naman Zakri, Paris, France, before 1993.
p. Self-monogram by Jan Abbas, London, England. ca. 1995.
q. Self-monogram by Ramil Nassybullah, Tatarstan, ca. 2004.
r.  Self-monogram by Linus Ganman, Sweden, 2007.
s. Self-monogram by Rida Bilal, Syria. 

(Note: the text in all the self-monograms includes the calligrapher’s name in Arabic).

This tradition of calligraphers and designers creating their own signature monograms was revived in the 20th century. Ernst Herzfeld (1879–1948), the prominent historian of Islamic art and architecture, prepared illustrations of Square Kufic designs in Aleppo, Damascus, and Karaman. In Aleppo, Herzfeld drew the Square Kufic designs on the North tower and main entrance of the Citadel and the wooden door of Taghribardi mosque minbar, in Damascus he drew the design in Madrasa al-Rukniyya, and in Karaman the Madrasa al-Khatuniya. He was intrigued enough with the script to sign his illustration of the Gate of Lions in Aleppo Citadel’s entrance with a seal containing his name in Square Kufic calligraphy, most likely of his own design [2] (Figure 1, g). The text in this monogram reads al-doqtor Ernst Herzfeld and the word “doctor” was spelled with a Qaf rather than the later common spelling with Kaf.

Around 1959, the Iranian graphic designer Morteza Momayez (1936–2005) created his highly abstracted Square Kufic signature (Figure 1, h), which appeared on many of his works and was the main graphic element in his poster designed in 1964. The signature and the poster are shown in (Figure 2).

Figure 2.  Morteza Momayez Square Kufic work

a. Poster by Morteza Momayez for his exhibition of graphic works, Tehran, Iran, 1964. 
b. Momayez cursive monogram, 1956.                       
c. Momayez Square Kufic monogram, ca. 1959.
d. Poster by Ebrahim Haghighi, Iran, 2006. Momayez Square Kufic monogram is used in the center of the poster on the right.      
e. Poster by Dimitris Aravanatis, Greece, 2006. Momayez Square Kufic monogram is used in the center of the poster.
f. Poster by Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 2006. Momayez Square Kufic monogram is used in the lower left corner of the poster in small size.
g. Poster by Uwe Loesch, Germany, 2006. The tile has Four Ali design in the center and subhan Allah, wal-hamdu lillah, wala ilaha illa Allah, wal-Allahu akbar on the perimeter. h. Process of monogram simplification as interpreted by this author, reading from left to right.


Shortly after Momayez, Iraqi artist Issam el-Said (1938–1988) designed his own monogram in Square Kufic and used the design as the graphic image on the invitation to his first art show held in London in 1962 (Figure 1, i). Probably soon after this date, Turkish calligrapher Emin Barin (1913–1987) designed his monogram on a Square Kufic grid but incorporated a few details from Kufic calligraphy that are not usually used in Square Kufic, such as the slanted line ends and circular interlace element (Figure 1, j). Other calligraphers include Muhammad Kamel Faris (Figure 1, l), Abdulkader Arnaout (Figure 1, n), Naman Zakri (Figure 1, o), Nidal Tabbal, and Rida Bilal (Figure 1, s) all of which are from Syria and have Square Kufic designs for their signatures. The artwork of Lebanese artist Wajih Nahle (b. 1932) who produced several paintings between 1965 and 1972 where Square Kufic calligraphy was incorporated, designed his monogram that appeared on books and continues to be displayed on his web site albeit oriented upside down (Figure 1, k). [3]  Another signature seal in Square Kufic calligraphy by the Turkic Tatar calligrapher Ramil Nassybullah was used to sign a Jali Thuluth calligraphy lawha [4] (Figure 1, q).

End Notes:

[1]  Another outstanding signature tile, but not in Square Kufic, is on the elevation of Ulugh Beg Madrasa in Bukhara (1417–20) where the name of the tile maker, Isma’il ibn Tahir ibn Mahmud al-Banna’ al-Isfahani, is designed in a circular fashion inside an eight-pointed star with vertical lines intersecting in the shape of a cross variation of an eight-pointed star in the center. However, this signature was designed in elegant Thuluth, rather than in Square Kufic calligraphy. See Golombek, Lisa, and Donald N. Wilber. 1988. The Timurid Architecture of Iran and Turan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, p. 228.

[2] See Herzfeld, Ernst. 1956. Matériaux pour un corpus inscriptionum Arabicarum, Syrie. Le Caire: Imp. de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, vol. 3, fig. 23, pl. 28.

[3]  Nahle’s Square Kufic artwork is featured in Nahlé, Wajih, Andre Parinaud, and Joseph Abou-Rizk. 1978. Wajih nahlé: Pour un nouveau graphisme Arabe, 1952-1977. Beyrouth, Liban (Beirut, Lebanon): W. Asmar, pp. 75, 83, 100, 113, 121, 124, and 127.  His web site is Other prominent Lebanese artists who incorporate Square Kufic calligraphy in their work include Aref al-Rayyes (1928–2005) who designed a sculpture titled Allahu Akbar for Jeddah in 1985 where he included surat al-Ikhlas in Square Kufic; Adnan el-Masri (b. 1937) who uses Square Kufic as part of his dense and colorful abstract paintings; and Samir Sayegh (b. 1945) who creates repeat patterns of Square Kufic words. The type designer Pascal Zoghbi also incorporates Square Kufic in his logo designs and gives workshops where he teaches this style of calligraphy. A notable Lebanese Square Kufic application is a cross in the National Evangelical Church of Beirut, a Protestant church in Lebanon, where a quotation from the Bible (John 3:16) was carved on the face in Square Kufic calligraphy. The cross was designed in 1995 by Istfen, a Lebanese Christian and posted on Zoghby’s web site (accessed July 2010).

[4] The lawha is surat al-Falaq (Qurʾan 113) shown in the Contemporary World Calligraphers section of the web site (accessed on Feb. 9, 2008). Lawha is a calligraphic panel for display in a mosque, a place of business, or a residence.

Updated 2/25/2013. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in any form without written permission.

© SAKKAL DESIGN 1523 175th Place SE, Bothell, WA 98012, USA.