Persia’s most popular and visually stunning script Nasta’ligh (pronounced: nas-ta’-leegh), will be featured at the Smithsonian Institute’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in the new exhibit: “Nasta’liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy”.

“Nasta’liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy” will be on view through March 22, 2015 and will be a part of the museum’s annual family festival celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Saturday, March 7, 2015.

This is the first-ever exhibition to focus specifically on nasta’liq—which was used primarily to write poetry—Persia’s quintessential form of literature. With sinuous lines, short vertical strokes and an astonishing sense of rhythm, the script was an immediate success and was rapidly adopted throughout the Persian-speaking world from Turkey to India.

The exhibition displays 20 rarely seen masterworks created by the script’s greatest practitioners, tracing its evolution from a simple style of writing to a potent form of artistic expression.

During a prolific 200-year period in the 14th 16th centuries, four master calligraphers invented one of the most aesthetically refined forms of Persian culture: nasta’liq, a type of calligraphy so beautiful that for the first time the expressive form of the words eclipsed their meaning.

“Nasta’liq represents one of the most accomplished forms of Persian art, developed at a time of cultural and artistic effervescence in Iran,” said Simon Rettig, exhibition curator and curatorial fellow at the Freer and Sackler galleries. “In a sense, it became the visual embodiment of the Persian language enthusiastically embraced from Istanbul to Delhi and from Bukhara to Baghdad.”

The exhibition shows how generations of itinerant calligraphers, bound by the master-pupil relationship, developed, enhanced and spread nasta’liq between major artistic centers.

Each of the four masters featured in the exhibition; Mir Ali from Tabriz (active ca. 1370-1410), Sultan Ali from Mashhad (d. 1520), Mir Ali from Herat (d. 1545) and Mir Imad Hasani from Qazvin (d. 1615), further evolved the nasta’liq style, intentionally slanting the script for dramatic effect, modulating lines to balance fluidity and discipline, and adding delicate, twisting flourishes.

Often attached to royal and princely courts, many calligraphers were the celebrities of their time.

Mastering nasta’liq can take a lifetime, but it remains the most popular form of Persian calligraphy today.

A demonstration video in the exhibition, along with calligraphic tools and accessories, shows how techniques developed more than 500 years ago are still practiced by contemporary calligraphers.

To learn more about this exhibit, please visit: Freer Sackler The Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art.