Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Qur'an Manuscript

Object Name:
Non-illustrated manuscript
13th century
Attributed to Egypt or Syria
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
H. 20 in. (50.8 cm) W. 13 1/4 in. (33.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Fletcher Fund, 1924
Accession Number:
Not on view
The 274 folios of this manuscript comprise the second half of a large Qur’an, extensively illuminated and inscribed throughout in gold.[1] The thick, creamy-white paper has been extensively consolidated, trimmed (sometimes grazing the text block), remargined, and rebound. As no colophon survives and no signatures have been detected, the date and attribution of this Qur’an rest on stylistic and technical evidence.
This luxurious manuscript preserves three of its fully illuminated text pages.[2] On each, a square panel with three lines of text over densely swirling vegetal scrolls is set within a gold frame, also decorated with vegetal scrolls and headings in "new-style" script. The final folio consists of the right half of a double page decorated with a rectangular panel of gold with large-scale vegetal scrolls, around which a gold-on-blue calligraphy border proclaims the ritual purity required for handling the Qur’an—an excerpt of Sura 56 frequently employed on Qur’an frontis- and finispieces.
Illuminated bands on the other folios contain Sura headings, most also in "new-style" script against a background of vegetal scrolls (fol. 230r, ill. p. 141 left). For each heading, a palmette extends into the margin and red annotation provides a related hadith.[3] The text, generally eleven lines per page, is entirely gold outlined with black,in a script corresponding to what medieval sources classified as ash‘ar or thuluth ash‘ar.[4] Diacritical marks are also gold, while vowels and orthoepic signs are in alternating red and blue. Illuminated disks, inscribed with the word aya, indicate verse endings, and marginal disks or teardrop shapes surrounded with colorful petallike borders highlight the fifth and tenth verses — as well as prostration points. Each section is announced by a rectangular margin table—also written in gold—providing its number, a count of the verses, words, letters, and diacriticals in it, and a count for the entire text of one letter of the alphabet. Two annotations are inked on the penultimate page of the manuscript: one, in Arabic, an attestation of faith; the other, in Turkish, a sacred oath (fol. 274r, ill. p. 141 right).[5]
While the all-gold calligraphy and the absence of text-block borders recall the 1304–6 Qur’an of Baybars al-Jashnagir at the British Library in London as well as other luxury manuscripts attributed to Mamluk Cairo, some aspects of the script and ornament correspond more closely to Damascene Qur’ans, such as that made (ca. 1330–40) for the Umayyad Mosque, now in the Khalili Collection, London.[6] Furthermore, the illumination of the present Qur’an appears archaic in comparison to both of these examples and contains none of the geometric compositions or interlacing cartouche frameworks so characteristic of fourteenth-century Mamluk manuscripts. A number of the illuminated devices, the flowing calligraphic hand, and certain letter forms compare with much earlier examples, among them the Zangid Qur’an dated 1199–1219 and attributed to Sinjar or Nisibin.[7] For these reasons, the attribution of this Qur’an has been broadened to include a possible Syrian place of production and a thirteenth-century date.
Ellen Kenney in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. The first folio begins partway through the third verse of Sura 19 (Maryam), and the continuing text is complete except for four points where replacement pages substitute for originals (fols. 61–64, 98–99, 267, and 269).
2. These are the first folio, which is the left half of a double page, and the penultimate and final folios, bearing the last Sura (114, al-Nas, "Mankind") on a double page.
3. One of these hadith annotations is done in gold ash‘ar script (fol. 8r, next to the heading for Sura 20, Taha).
4. James, David [Lewis]. Manuscripts of the Holy Qur’an from the Mamluk Era. King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies. 1988. Riyadh, 1999, pp. 18–19; and James, David [Lewis]. "Qur’ans and Calligraphers of the Ayyubids and Zangids." In Ayyubid Jerusalem: The Holy City in Context, 1187–1250, edited by Robert Hillenbrand and Sylvia Auld, pp. 348 – 59. London, 2009, p. 351. However, some aspects of the script relate better to tawqi‘ and tumar, especially the way the final letter of Allah is open, and the tail of the mim is relatively short and hooks upward (Safwat, Nabil F., and Mohamed Zakariya. The Art of the Pen: Calligraphy of the Fourteenth to Twentieth Centuries. The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, edited by Julian Raby, vol. 5. London, 1996, pp. 74, 234; Blair 2006, pp. 318, 345–49).
5. We are very grateful to Abdullah Ghouchani and Rifat Gunalan for their assistance with these readings.
6. British Library, London, Add. 22406-13 (James 1999 [see footnote 4], p. 220, no. 1; James 1992, p. 176, no. 43).
7. James 1992 p. 44, no. 7.
[ Maggs Bros. Ltd., London, until ca. 1914]; Vladimir G. Simkhovitch, New York (from ca. 1914); [ Brummer Gallery, New York, until 1924; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Gold," April 14, 1973–September 9, 1973, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks," November 21, 1981–January 10, 1982, suppl. #1.

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 69, ill. fig. 38 (b/w).

"Gold." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 31, no. 2 (Winter 1972/1973). pp. 69-121.

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 51, 53, ill. fig.. 37 (color).

Drake Boehm, Barbara, and Melanie Holcomb, ed. Jerusalem, 1000–1400: Every People under Heaven. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 94, p. 178, ill. fol. 192.

James, David. The Master Scribes: Qur'ans of the 10th to 14th centuries AD, edited by Julian Raby. The Nasser D. Khalili collection of Islamic Art, vol. 2. New York: The Nour Foundation & Oxford U. Press, 1992.

Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 50, no. 1 (Summer 1992). pp. 22-25, ill. fig. 29 (color).

Blair, Sheila S. Islamic Calligraphy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 90, pp. 141-142, ill. p. 141 (color).

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