Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Opening Folio of the 26th Volume of the "Anonymous Baghdad Qur'an"

Ahmad ibn al-Suhrawardi al-Bakri (d. 1320–21)
Muhammad ibn Aibak ibn 'Abdallah
Object Name:
Folio from a non-illustrated manuscript
A.H. 706/ A.D 1306–7
Made in Iraq, Baghdad
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
17 x 13 7/8in. (43.2 x 35.2cm) Mat: 22 x 16 in. (55.9 x 40.6 cm) Frame: 23 x 17 in. (58.4 x 43.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1950
Accession Number:
Not on view
This is the right half of a double‑page opening to a volume of the Qur'an. Its patron is unknown, but we know that the calligrapher was Ahmad ibn al‑Suhrawardi, a famous student of the master scribe Yaqut al‑Musta'simi, and that the illuminator was Muhammad ibn Aibak, who collaborated with him on several outstanding Qur'ans. From the surviving parts of this Qur'an, it appears that the illuminator created a different geometric scheme to preface each volume.
This illuminated folio and folio no. 55.44 come from different sections of one of the acknowledged masterpieces of calligraphy and book production in the Islamic world. The so-called Anonymous Baghdad Qur’an was created under Ilkhanid patronage in the first decade of the fourteenth century, specifically between late 1301 (or very early 1302) and 1308.[1] Under the Ilkhanid rulers, who converted to Islam in the late thirteenth century, several luxury copies of the Qur’an were commissioned with the aim of distributing them across the country, either as endowments to major mosques or for placement in mausoleums that were built while the patrons were still alive. Crucial to this was the guidance of the Ilkhanid vizier Rashid al-Din (d. 1318), a converted Persian Jew who created in the capital of Tabriz an atelier for copying and distributing literary texts. In addition to that scriptorium, several other important Ilkhanid cities had long-standing traditions of book production, foremost among which was Baghdad, the former capital of the Abbasids, which had been captured by the Ilkhanids in 1258.

While we know that the thirty-part manuscript to which these two pages once belonged was produced in Baghdad, we do not know the name of its patron or its intended destination. Possible candidates have included Sultan Ghazan (r. 1295–1304); his successor, Sultan Uljaitu (r. 1304–16); or one of their powerful viziers, perhaps Rashid al-Din or Sa‘d al-Din Savaji. It may have been made for deposit in the mausoleum of Sultan Ghazan, which was completed in 1301.

However, we do know the names of both the calligrapher and the illuminator of this splendid codex: not surprisingly, they were among the most celebrated and prolific artists at the court of the Ilkhanids. The calligrapher, Ibn al-Suhrawardi, may have been the grandson of a well-known sufi from the small town of Suhraward in northwestern Iran. A pupil of Yaqut al-Musta‘simi (d. 1298), the most renowned calligrapher of his time, he may well have surpassed his master while copying this Qur’an. Ibn al-Suhrawardi is credited with designing inscriptions for a number of buildings in Baghdad and with the production of thirty-three complete Qur’an manuscripts. Unfortunately, few of his works survive. The illuminator, Muhammad ibn Aibak ibn ‘Abdallah, signed his name several times throughout the present manuscript, adding that he was working in the City of Peace, Baghdad; although Ibn Aibak’s signatures appear in a few other manuscripts as well, little is known about his life.[2] The dates provided by the calligrapher and the illuminator throughout the surviving sections of this codex document the different paces at which they worked: Ibn Suhrawardi was able to copy approximately eight volumes each year, while Ibn Aibak managed to illuminate only four of them.[3]

This folio is the right-hand side of the two-page frontispiece for the twenty-sixth juz’, or part, of this Qur’an.[4] According to the colophon for this section, now in the Iran Bastan Museum in Tehran, it was finished by Ibn Suhrawardi in A.H. 706/1306–7 A.D. The quality of Ibn Aibak’s illumination here is nothing short of superb: the central eight-pointed star set against a lapis blue background is duplicated within an ever-expanding pattern that is interrupted by the square framing, thus allowing the view of half stars in the center of the four sides and quarter stars at the corners. The complex gold geometric interlacing that separates the stars becomes the dominant pattern and creates space for four small polychrome “flowers.” The elegant inscription in black outlined in gold represents half of the text originally copied on this double-sided frontispiece.[5] The outer border, although slightly discolored due to damage, is also spectacular, with an undulating brown band contrasting against the blue background and a large pendant off to the right side.

The two illuminated sections of folio no. 55.44 are in Aibak’s hand; the text contains the second half of the colophon, possibly of the thirtieth and last juz’ of the Qur’an.[7] The most prominent feature of this folio is the three lines of text set against the polished white paper, copied by Ibn Suhrawardi in a most accomplished, artistic, balanced, and flowing muhaqqaq cursive calligraphy. The magnificent achievement of this artist enables even those viewers who cannot read Arabic to have an emotive appreciation for it. In possibly the very last written words of the last volume of this extraordinary manuscript, the calligrapher offers his name to posterity: Ahmad ibn Suhrawardi al-Bakri.[8]

Stefano Carboni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]


1. Due to the fact that none of the surviving volumes or individual folios contains a waqfiyya (official endowment) or a record of commission, this manuscript has been referred to as the Anonymous Baghdad Qur’an. See James, David [Lewis]. Manuscripts of the Holy Qur’an from the Mamluk Era. King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies. 1988 , pp. 78–92.

2. Ibid., pp. 89–92.

3. Ibid., p. 90.

4. Published in ibid., fig. 58.

5. See the translation of the inscriptions. The full verse would have ended on the other side with ". . . nor from behind it. A revelation from the Wise the Praised One."

6. One has to keep in mind that a mirror-illuminated page once faced the present one, thus balancing the pattern and doubling the pleasure to the eye. This page seems to have been lost.

7. Published in James 1988, fig. 47(see footnote 1); Schimmel 1992, p. 16; Carboni and Kamoroff 2002, pp. 204, 258–59, no. 64, fig. 245; Blair 2006, p. 252.

8. To my knowledge, Ibn al-Suhrawardi added the word al-Bakri to his name only on this page, making it particularly significant. It confirms that he belonged to the Suhrawardi order of sufis.
Inscription: In borders at top and bottom in Arabic in "new-style" script :
[وإنه لکتاب عزیز لا یأتیه/ الباطل من بین یدیه [ولا من خلفه

“[…] and surely it is a Book Sublime; falsehood comes not to it from before it [nor from behind it] (Qur’an 41:41–42)
[ J. Acheroff, Paris, until 1950; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Nature of Islamic Ornament Part II: Vegetal Patterns," September 10, 1998–January 10, 1999, no catalogue.

Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). ill. p. 27 (b/w).

James, David. Qur'ans of the Mamluks. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988. no. 39, pp. 78-92, 235, ill. p. 235 (b/w), figs. 49-52 (color); figs. 57-60 (b/w).

Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 50, no. 1 (Summer 1992).

Rossabi, Morris, Charles Melville, James C.Y. Watt, Tomoko Masuya, Sheila S. Blair, Robert Hillenbrand, Linda Komaroff, Stefano Carboni, Sarah Bertelan, and John Hirx. The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353, edited by Stefano Carboni, and Linda Komaroff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

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. 54A, pp. 92-93, ill. p. 93 (color).

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