This large folio comes from a magnificent two-volume Qur'an. In Spain, as in North Africa, Qur'an manuscripts and Qur'anic calligraphy retained archaic features long since abandoned farther east. Such features include the use of parchment instead of polished paper, a square format, and deep, rounded letter terminals, as seen in this example.
Few luxury Qur’ans from thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Spain and North Africa exceeded twenty inches (approximately half a meter) in width and height, and even fewer of that size on parchment have survived. It seems that these two characteristics were combined in only one example, to which this individual folio originally belonged. The most distinctive qualities of Spanish and Moroccan Qur’an manuscripts were established in the Almoravid and Almohad periods and are still evident in this manuscript page: a roughly square format, the archaic use of parchment at a time when paper had become the most common support, and a spidery calligraphy known as maghribi (Western Islamic) script.
This folio therefore belonged to one of the most ambitious and largest (if not the largest) parchment Qur’an manuscripts ever produced in the medieval Maghrib. A two-volume Qur’an now in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in Istanbul seems to provide a good match for the dimensions, calligraphic style, and illumination of the Museum’s folio. Copied on both sides (recto and verso), this folio contains the first four verses and most of verse 5 of Sura 39 (al-Zumur, "Of the Crowds"), which was revealed in Mecca and includes a total of seventy-five verses. The recto is particularly notable. Its first line, which gives the heading for the Sura, is copied in an intricate, dramatic kufic gold script outlined in red and ending in an impressive circular pendant; the pendant itself is outlined in blue and filled with a densely illuminated but perfectly balanced scrolling composition in red and gold. The end of each verse is highlighted by a small but prominent circular medallion including a white interlacing geometric motif and the word aya (verse) in blue; on the verso, the fifth verse is emphasized in the margins of the page with a larger pointed medallion including the word khamsa (five) in white.
The seven amply spaced lines of text on each page were copied in black ink that has subsequently turned brownish against the slippery surface of the parchment. Diacritical and reading marks were added in blue, orange, and green pigments. Although the overall effect of the calligraphy is squarish, uniform, and balanced, the deep, curving, almost semicircular endings of some of the letters brilliantly tie the text together and punctuate its rhythm, not unlike the notes in a musical score. Considering that Qur’an means "recitation," this monumental maghribi calligraphy splendidly illustrates how writing, reading, and reciting can coalesce in a truly superb combination.
Stefano Carboni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Şahin, Seracettin. The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts: Thirteen Centuries of Glory from the Umayyads to the Ottomans. New York, 2009, pp. 86–89, and Lings, Martin. Splendours of Qur’an Calligraphy and Illumination. 2004. Vaduz, Liechtenstein, 2005, p. 52, pls. 166–69.
2. The heading states that the number of verses is seventy-two, which may correspond to a specific division of the text used in the Maghrib.
Inscription: Sura 39: 1– 5 (al-Zumar)
In Arabic language and in Kufic script title of Quran chapter:
سورة الزمر اثنتان و سبعون آیة مکیة
al-Zumur chapter, 72 verses of Mukka
The rest is verses 1, 2 and part of 3 of chapter 39.
[ Mrs. Kamer Aga-Oglu, Ann Arbor, MI, until 1942; sold to MMA]
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