Two lavishly illuminated double pages open and close this juz' (section) from a Qur'an, which was bound in finely worked leather. The intricate geometric and vegetal decoration of this illumination is conservative and the calligraphy employed here represents a type of script that was almost unchanged in North Africa since the twelfth century, but the rectangular format, the use of paper, and the varied color palette of the illumination are characteristic of the manuscript’s late date.
This Qur’an belongs to a group of late North African manuscripts noted for their use of a wide range of vibrant colors, a feature that sets them apart from earlier manuscripts of the same region (see, for example, cat. 33, Met object 2004.90). Deeply saturated tones of orange, red, yellow, green, pink, and blue not only dominate the frontispiece and finispiece but also highlight the Sura and verse markers throughout the text. These bright compositions are illuminated with gold and intricately patterned in scrolling arabesques and stylized floral motifs.
Although this manuscript has been dated to the period when the arts flowered under the patronage of the Alawi sultans in eighteenth-century Morocco, a Turkish seal on the flyleaf suggests that it may have been created in Ottoman-controlled Tunisia. Morocco, though culturally and geographically linked to Tunisia, was never under the control of the Ottoman Empire. Supporting this alternate attribution is the presence of Ottoman-style "forked" tulips on the frontispiece, the doublure, and the inside of the doublure flap.
The manuscript contains the last five juz’ (sections 26 through 30) of the Qur’an in forty folios. The text, in black ink, is executed in horizontally elongated maghribi script that creates a visually dramatic calligraphic composition. Further enlivening the text are red, yellow, and blue diacritical marks. The verse markers, in the form of gold, blue, and red trefoil and winged vegetal motifs, are traditional in North African Qur’ans, which display similar markers as early as the thirteenth century. Maghribi, an early cursive script that probably developed out of the more angular kufic, was the primary calligraphic style of North Africa and remained relatively unchanged in the region from the twelfth century onward. This Qur’an, like others of the eighteenth century, trades the traditional brown ink of earlier North African Qur’ans for the more ubiquitous black ink. The text frames are also not characteristically Moroccan, and it has been suggested that they were adopted in conscious emulation of Ottoman manuscripts. This Qur’an thus represents both a continuation of traditional North African elements, such as the maghribi script and ornamental verse markers, and a breaking away from earlier regional prototypes in the use of black ink, text frames, and bold colors.
Maryam Ekthiar (author) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Inscription: Sura 46 (al-Ahqaf) – end
Marking: Turkish seal without date.
Hajji Ahmed, Turkey; Philip Hofer, Cambridge, MA (until 1982; sold to MMA)
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