Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Qur'an Manuscript

Object Name:
Non-illustrated manuscript
late 9th–early 10th century
Attributed to Syria or Iraq
Main support: ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on parchment; Binding: leather; tooled
H. 4 in. (10.2 cm) W. 6 3/4 in. (17.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Philip Hofer, 1937
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 450
This is the second volume of a thirty-part Qur’an meant to be read over the course of a month. It is typical of early Qur’ans, but includes some embellishments not found in earlier, more austere copies, such as red vowel marks, rosettes every ten verses, and double-page illuminations at the beginning and end of the book. These compositions in gold are important precursors to what would evolve into a major aspect of Qur’an decoration.
The Qur’an is customarily divided into thirty juz’, or sections of equal length, and those divisions are often reflected in the copying of the text. This intact example of the second juz’ ( 2:142–252) retains the two pairs of decorated folios that separated and protected the text pages from the binding (fols. 1b–2a, 100b–101a). Each set of these folios has a distinct design of interlacing gold bands that enclose stippled red and green dots mimicking designs derived from weaving or embroidery. A golden treelike plant projects into the outer margin of the short side of each page. In both design and size, these pages bear a close resemblance to an illuminated folio from a Qur’an in the National Library, Tunis, that had been preserved in a storeroom at the Great Mosque of Qairawan.[1] A group of discarded bindings decorated with interlace patterns that were discovered in the same mosque suggest that the design of the now-lost binding of this juz’ may have resembled that of its opening and closing illuminations.[2]
The excellent state of preservation of this manuscript allows for a detailed analysis of its script. Each page bears five lines of text, with both the inner and outer margins justified in most cases. The hand is notable for its aesthetic consistency and for the careful way in which a harmonious design is achieved by balancing the vertical and horizontal elements on each page. The letter forms and their proportions resemble those in a select group of manuscripts dating from the late ninth and early tenth centuries that were donated to mosques. These include two Qur’ans given to the Great Mosque of Damascus: the first in 876 by Amajur, an Abbasid governor of that city (r. 870–78), and the second in 911 by a certain ‘Abd al-Mu’min.[3] The illuminated pages of the later Qur’an are strikingly similar in design and execution to those of the present manuscript.[4]
Its majestic script and kinship with Qur’ans known to have been donated to mosques place the Metropolitan Museum’s juz’ among the most accomplished examples of early Abbasid calligraphy. Qur’ans of this type have been attributed to both Syria and Iraq.[5]
Priscilla Soucek in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Paris 1982–83, pp. 258–59, no. 343.
2. Marcais and Poinssot 1948–52, vol. 1, pls. 13b and 21; Petersen 1954, fig. 16.
3. Déroche 1992, pp. 36–37; Blair 2006, pp. 105–6, 111.
4. Arberry 1967, Ms. 1421, p. 8, no. 16, and pls. 19, 20.
5. Whelan 1990b, pp. 119, 124–25.
Marking: - 5th verse mark: gold Arabic letter "ha".

- First page (fol. 1a) has the stamp of a large oval seal-ring which seems to be Ottoman with a typical Ottoman tughra, some later notations in black ink (see catalogue card for the Arabic inscriptions), and other isolated letters whose significance, if any, is undetermined.
Philip Hofer, New York (until 1937; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balcony Calligraphy Exhibition," June 1, 2009–October 26, 2009, no catalogue.

Marcais, Georges, and Louis Poinssot. Objets Kairouanais, IXe au XIIIe Siècle. Tunis, 1948. vol. 1, ill. pls. 13b, 21.

Arberry, Arthur. The Koran Illuminated: A Handlist of the Korans in the Chester Beatty Library. Dublin, 1967. no. 16, p. 8, ill. pls. 19, 20.

De Carthage à Kairouan: 2000 Ans d'Art et d'Histoire en Tunesie. Paris, 1982. no. 343, pp. 258–59.

Raby, Julian, ed. "The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art." In The Abbasid Tradition: Qur'ans of the Eighth to the Tenth Centuries A.D.. London, 1992. pp. 36–37.

Jenkins-Madina, Marilyn. "Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Arts & the Islamic World, Arts & The Islamic World, vol. 3, no. 3 (Autumn 1985). p. 52-53, ill. figs. 3, 4.

Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 12-13, ill. fig. 1 (color).

Ettinghausen, Richard, Oleg Grabar, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina. Islamic Art and Architecture 650–1250. 2nd ed. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001. p. 75, ill. fig. 119 (color).

Blair, Sheila S. Islamic Calligraphy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006. pp. 105–6, 111.

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. 2, pp. 26-27, ill. p. 26 (color).

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