Muthanna/Mirror Writing in Islamic Art: History, Aesthetics, and Meaning


ACLS Fellowship Program


Art and Art History


Muthanna, commonly referred to as mirror writing, is a widely known, if understudied and misinterpreted, calligraphic form in which a source text and its mirror image are placed symmetrically on a horizontal or vertical axis. This project traces this art form within the cross-cultural contexts of pagan, Judaic, Christian, and Islamic visual practices and religious beliefs, dating it to the period between the seventh and ninth centuries. In what will be the first book-length study on the topic, this project interprets muthanna not as the quintessential product of Muslim creativity, but rather as the culmination of centuries-old human experiments with the technical demands, practical requisites, and aesthetic potentialities of writing.