With no ink, pigments, gold or brushes, the nakhuni technique is an extremely elegant and minimalistic method which only involves a sheet of plain paper and the artist’s fingers. The few existing articles on the subject of nakhuni provide no evidence of this technique being practiced prior to the 19th century, although the secondary sources usually indicate a rough date for the emergence of the technique as the late Safavid period (1501-1736). In fact, there is no recorded history regarding the invention of fingernail calligraphy in primary sources. However, in the Gulistan-i Hunar, (Garden of Art: an art historical source on Persian calligraphers and painters, composed by Qazi Ahmad Munshi Qumi in the 16th century), the author cites a poem by the Safavid prince Bahram Mirza (d. 1549), in which he refers to the prowess of Nizam al-Din Bukhara’i, a master calligrapher whose innovation was writing with his fingertip (Qumi, Qażi Ahmad, Gulistan-i hunar, ed. A. Suhayli Khwansari, Tehran, 1383/2005, p.33). Although some scholars interpreted it as writing “with fingernail”, the author believes that Nizam al-Din Bukhara’i was very likely using his finger as a conventional pen by dipping his fingertip in ink and practicing calligraphy that way. In the Qajar period we see common themes and similar designs repeated in various artistic media. These include calligraphic specimens such as our example, bird and flower drawings, portraits of Europeans and religious scenes.
Our panel is created by a female calligrapher, Ruqiyah Banu. Interestingly, one of the most relevant and significant albums of nakhuni known is at the Golestan Palace, which exhibits the skills of a female royal artist, Princess Fakhri, the daughter of Fath ‘Ali Shah, who was also known as Fakhr-i Jahan Khanum (Pride of the World). Niavaran Palace in Tehran was constructed for her by Fath ‘Ali Shah.
For more information see Shiva Mihan, published 11 December 2020, Fingernail Art (I): Three-dimensional Calligraphy and Drawing in the 19th-Century, [accessed online 2 March 2021] access via https://digitalorientalist.com/2020/12/11/fingernail-art-three-dimensional-calligraphy-and-drawing-in-19th-century/