Introducing the art of Arabic, Ottoman, & Persian calligraphy


(Pronounced “shi-kas-teh”; Persian–Shekasteh)


  • “Shikaste” means “broken,” because this script is a “broken” version of the nasta‘liq (or ta‘liq) script


  • Used for longer documents because it was easy to write quickly
  • Used for poetry because of its flowery visual style
  • Used for official proclamations


  • Developed in 14th century
  • Used widely in 19th century Iran during the Qajar dynasty
  • Still in use today

Distinctive characteristics

  • Shikaste is the ta‘liq or nasta‘liq script written rapidly. Each word is written with a single pen stroke, without lifting the pen off the page
  • Letters and words that don’t connect on the left are often connected in this script (unauthorized ligatures)
  • Vertical strokes are extremely short
  • Letters are written diagonally across the page
  • Letter shapes are intricate, complex and dense


  • This script is illegible to the inexperienced eye.
Page of Calligraphy
The shikaste or “broken script,” developed in the seventeenth century, reached its peak in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. This script had little currency outside the borders of Iran and was created to fill a need for quick and efficient yet beautiful writing that would be used primarily for private correspondence and administrative documents. In shikaste horizontal regularity is not the norm; instead words fluidly rise and fall, emphasizing delicate grace and movement. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Page of calligraphy
Shikaste script. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Qur’anic verses
Shikaste script. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, African and Middle Eastern Division.

Image gallery

View the full shikaste image gallery