Mirza Mohammad Reza Kalhor


KALHOR, Mirzā Mohammad-Reżā (b. 1245/1829; d. Tehran, 25 Moḥarram 1310/3 August 1892, Figure 1), one of the most prominent 19th-century Persian calligraphers, often compared to such great masters of nastaʿliq as Mir ʿAli Heravi and Mir ʿEmād Sayfi Qazvini.

He was born into the Kalhor tribe of Kermanšāh in western Persia. In the traditional training of tribal youths, particularly in the footsteps of his father, Moḥammad-Rahiám Beg, who was the head of a group of Kalhor cavalry, Moḥammad-Reżā spent his early years mastering horsemanship and sharpshooting (Mostawfi, pp. 244-45; Eqbāl, pp. 39, 56). He, however, developed a keen interest in calligraphy as a young man and started training under Mirzā Moḥammad Ḵᵛānsari in Tehran, but he soon realized that to excel significantly he had to model himself on the foremost master of nastaʿliq (see EIr. IV/7, pp. 696 ff.). Mir ʿEmād Ḥasani (q.v.). Thus, he set off for Qazvin and Isfahan, where he could devote his undivided attention to copying the original works and epigraphic friezes of the great master, particularly the inscription on the tomb of Abu’l-Qāsem Mir Fendereski, which he kept copying repeatedly (Eqbāl, pp. 39-40).

Kalhor’s widespread fame as a master calligrapher soon attracted the attention of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah (r. 1848-96), who invited Kalhor to train him and later offered him a position in the Bureau of Publications (Edāra-ye enṭebāʿāt) under Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana. He declined the offer despite his limited financial resources, and instead decided to earn his livelihood by private practice, volunteering his services to the bureau only on an occasional basis (Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, I, p. 275; Mostawfi, p. 239, repr. in Eqbāl, p. 48). This left him ample time to perfect his skills and train young calligraphers. In 1883, he was invited to join the royal entourage on a journey to Khorasan. Kalhor, a devout Shiʿite, saw the trip as an opportunity to visit the holy shrine in Mashhad. On this trip, which extended from June to October 1983, he transcribed in beautiful nastaʿliq twelve issues of the royal journal, called Ordu-ye homāyun (11 Šaʿbān-12 Ḏu’l-ḥejja 1300/17 June-14 September 1883; repr. Tehran, 1984), which was printed and distributed free among the royal entourage. They are considered among the finest examples of his masterful production (Eqbāl, pp. 40-41, see also a front page repr. on p. 44). Kalhor also produced a large number of unsigned exercise or siāh-mašq pages and only a couple of finished calligraphic specimens. His passion for the excellence of his art drove him to spend countless hours, and sometimes-sleepless nights, practicing (mašq). His siāh-mašq pages were known to be so heavily worked that the original color of paper was often entirely concealed (Mostawfi, pp. 241, 245; Eqbāl, pp. 50-51).

Kalhor died during the cholera epidemic in Tehran on 25 Moḥarram 1310/3 August 1892 at the age of sixty-five and was buried in Ḥasanābād cemetery, which has long disappeared and turned into a residential-commercial quarter in the center of Tehran. He sired nine children, six of which died during his lifetime (Kalhor, p. 50). He trained many devoted pupils of whom the most notable were Mirzā Zayn-al-ʿĀbedin Qazvini (Malek al-Ḵaṭṭāṭin), Āqā Morṭażā Najmābādi, Morṭażā Baraḡāni, and the renowned historian of Qajar period ʿAbd-Allāh MostawfiMany of his pupils were instrumental in preserving his legacy and disseminating his new style within the community of calligraphers (Mostawfi, pp. 240, 243; Eqbāl, pp. 41-42, 49, 54; Bayāni, p. 732).

Without his lithographic works, we would know little about his genius. The corpus of these works includes: Select sections in the issues of the newspaper Šaraf; Twelve issues of the newspaper, Ordu-ye homāyun; the journal of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah’s second trip to Khorasan (facs. ed., Tehran, 1982); Maḵzan al-enšāʾ, a selection from the anthology of epistolary pieces (Tehran, 1285/1868); Fayż al-domuʿ of Mirzā Ebrāhim Nawwāb Tehrani (facs. ed., Tehran, 1984; MS at the former Royal Library); Montaḵab al-solṭān, an anthology of poetry by Ḥāfez and Saʿdi, selected by Nāṣer-al-Din Shah; Resāla-ye ḡadiriyaDivān of Foruḡi Besṭāmi (Tehran, 1872, repr., 1979); portions of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah’s journal during his trip to Karbalāʾ and Najaf (Tehran, 1870, repr. as Safar-nāma-ye Nāṣer-al-Din Šāh: Karbalā wa Najaf, Tehran, 1983); the journal of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah’s second European tour (publ. as Safar-nāma-ye Farangestān: safar-e dovvom, Tehran, 1984); Naṣāyeḥ al-molukMonājāt-nāma (a collection of extempore prayers) of Ḵᵛāja ʿAbd-Allāh Anṣāri; Portions of the lithograph copy of the Divān of Mirzā Ḥabib Qāʾāni (Eqbāl, p. 42; Bayāni, pp. 734-35).

Kalhor was an innovator. As a calligrapher of the lithographic press, he introduced a variety of new conventions that had a major impact on the aesthetics of the nastaʿliq script in the latter half of the 19th century. One was the compacting (jamʿ-nevisi) and stacking of words, which altered their traditional layout on the line. Others included: the reduction of the size of the letters and dots (kučak-nevisi or riz-nevisi) and the thickening of the shafts and curvatures of the letters (čāq-nevisi), thereby creating a new set of proportions better suited to the lithographic process. Kalhor also introduced alternate ways of sharpening the reed pen in order to facilitate the ease and speed of writing with print ink, and he invented a pen based on the French metal proto-type (qalam-e Farānsa) that could be used successfully to transcribe text in nastaʿliq and šekasta nastaʿliq. Another contribution of him of different kind was to reduce the number of years required for training toward mastership (Anjoman-e Ḵošnevisān-e Irān, Introduction, un-numbered pages).

Kalhor’s contributions to the later Persian calligraphy serve as a testament to the innovative spirit of 19th-century Persian calligraphers who, while working within the parameters of the canon, often took liberties in introducing innovations with long-lasting effects.


Bibliography:Mahdi Almāsi, Ābru-ye faqr: rewāyat-i az zendagāni-e Mirzā Mo ḥammad-Reżā Kalhorḵošnevis-e bozorg-e ʿahd-e Qājār, Tehran, 2000.

Anjoman-e Ḵošnevisān-e Irān, Yād-nāma-ye Moḥammad-Reżā Kalhor, be monāsabat-e yaksadomin sāl-e dargożašt-e ostād-e bozorg-e ḵošnevisi-e Irān, Tehran, 1989.

Mahdi Bayāni, Ahwāl o āṯār-e ḵošnevisān, 4 vols., Tehran,1966-79, III, pp. 731-35.

Fatḥ-Allāh Dawlatšāhi, “Mirzā Moḥammad-Reżā Kalhor,” Rahāvard, no. 26, 1981, pp. 237-42.

ʿAbbās Eqbāl Āštiāni, “Moḥammad-Reżā Kalhor (1245-1310),” Yādgār 1/7, 1945, pp. 39-56.

Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Eʿtemād-al-Salṭana, al-Maʾāṯer wa’l-āṭār, ed. Iraj Afšār as Čehel sāl tāriḵ-e Irān dar dawra-ye pādšāhi-e Nāṣer-al-Din Šāh, 3 vols., Tehran, 1984-85.

Ḥabib-Allāh Fażāʾeli, Aṭlas-e ḵaṭṭ: taḥqiq dar ḵoṭuṭ-e eslāmi, Isfahan, 1983, pp. 591-94.

Moḥammad-ʿAli Kalhor, in Yādgār 1/9, p. 50.

Mirzā Moḥammad-Reżā Kalhor, Majmuʿa-i az ḵuṭuṭ-e marḥum-e Mirzā Moḥammad-Reżā Kalhor, Faḵr-al-Kottāb, ed. Ḥamid ʿAjami and Ḥosayn Ḡolāmi, Tehran, 1992.

Ardašir Kešāvarz, Rejāl wa mašāhir-e Kermānšāhān: Mirzā Moḥammad-Reżā Kalhor, Ostād Ḡolām-Reżā Rašid Yāsami, Šayḵ ʿAli Ḵān Zangana, Kermānšāh, 2003.

ʿAbd-Allāh Mostawfi, Šarḥ-e zendagāni-e man yā tāriḵ-e ejtemāʿi o edāri-e dawra-ye Qājār, 3 vols., Tehran, 1964, I, pp. 237-45, 462, 482.

ʿAli Rāhjiri, Taḏkera-ye ḵošnevisān-i moʿāṣer, Tehran, 1986, pp. 21-26.

Ḵosrow Zaʿimi, “Az nastaʿliq tā nastaʿliq,” Honar o mardom, no.181, 1974, pp. 36-55.


April 4, 2006

(Maryam Ekhtiar)

Originally Published: December 15, 2010

Last Updated: December 15, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XV, Fasc. 4, pp. 381-382

Cite this entry:

Maryam Ekhtiar, “KALHOR, Mirzā Mohammad-Reżā,” Encyclopædia Iranica, XV/4, pp. 381-382; available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/kalhor-mirza-mohammad-reza (accessed on 15 December 2012).

  • Birthday: 1829
  • Death: August 3, 1892
  • Birthplace: Kermanshah, Kermanshah, Iran


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