Transcribed in naskh script by the master calligrapher Hasan Riza, this art panel is a hilye that renders the description in Arabic of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
The text of the hilye, located in the central roundel and bottom rectangular, is attributed to Sayidna Ali, the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. It describes both the physical qualities of the Prophet and his good character. It reads:
Ali, may God be pleased with him, when he would describe the Prophet, peace be upon him, would say: He was not too tall and attenuated, nor was he excessively short. He was medium-sized. His hair was not short and curly, nor was it lank, but it was smooth and wavy. His face was not narrow, nor was it fully round, but there was a roundness to it. His skin was a ruddy white. His eyes were black. He had long eyelashes. He was big-boned and had wide shoulders. He had no body hair except in the middle of his chest. He had thick hands and feet. When he walked, he walked inclined, as if descending a slope. When he looked at someone, he looked at them in full face. Between his shoulders was the seal of prophecy, the sign that he was the last of the prophets. He was the most generous of men and the most open-hearted of them, the most truthful of them in speech, the most mild-tempered of them, and the most generous of them in regard to his companions. Whoever saw him unexpectedly was in awe of him. And whoever associated with him familiarly, loved him. Anyone who would describe him would say, I never saw, before him or after him, the like of him. Peace be upon him.
On each corner of the central crescent roundel, are the names of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs: Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali.
The large calligraphy that the hilye begins with is the Basmillah, In the Name of God, the Clement, the Merciful, while the large bottom calligraphy beneath the central roundel is the Quranic verse [21:107]: We sent thee not save as a mercy for the worlds.
The hilye is decorated with intricate golden and white arabesque and freehand floral designs.
The life of master calligrapher Hasan Riza Efendi
Hasan Riza Efendi (1849-1920) was raised in Tirnovo, Bulgaria, and studied calligraphy under the famous masters Yahya Hilmi Efendi and Mehmed Şefik Bey. Mehmed Şefik Bey introduced him to the Ottoman calligraphy of Kazasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi who hugely influences his art. He was particularly celebrated for his mastery of thuluth and naskh scripts and his calligraphy dominates the walls of the Cihangir Mosque, the Mosque of Sultan Selim I in Istanbul, as well as the monumental names of the four righteous caliphs in the Maqam al-Ibrahim in the Haram al-Sharif of the holy Ka'aba in Mecca. He passed away in 1920, in Istanbul.