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, Met no. 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 in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. This type of elongation, in which individual letters are stretched horizontally, is called mashq in Arabic and appears in early kufic texts as well. See Roxburgh 2007, pp. 8–10.
2. The trefoil motifs (essentially three conjoined gold circles tipped in polychrome) can in fact be seen in earlier manuscripts, such as a twelfth-century Qur’an from Spain in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art (no. 1993.440.a), but they do not seem to be paired with the winged vegetal motif until the thirteenth century (see, for example, a Qur’an from Marrakesh in the Topkapı Palace Library, Istanbul [no. R.33]).
3. Roxburgh 2007, p. 35.
4. Stanley, Tim. "North Africa: The Maintenance of a Tradition." In The Decorated Word: Qur’ans of the Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries, by Manijeh Bayani, Anna Contadini, and Tim Stanley, pp. 42–45. The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, edited by Julian Raby, vol. 4, pt. 1. London, 1999, p. 42. This feature was probably introduced in the early eighteenth century, around the same time that Qur’ans and other manuscripts of North Africa began to take on a vertical format instead of the traditional square/oblong maghribi format.
Inscription: Sura 46 (al-Ahqaf) – end
Marking: Turkish seal without date.
Hajji Ahmed, Turkey; Philip Hofer, Cambridge, MA (until 1982; sold to MMA)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Perfect Page: The Art of Embellishment in Islamic Book Design," May 17, 1991–August 18, 1991, no catalogue.
Mexico City. Colegio de San Ildefonso. "Arte islamico del Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva York," September 30, 1994–January 8, 1995, no. 10.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Nature of Islamic Ornament Part III: Geometric Patterns," March 17, 1999–July 18, 1999, no catalogue.
Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 50, no. 1 (Summer 1992). pp. 32-33, ill. fig. 41 (color).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Daniel S. Walker, Arturo Ponce Guadián, Sussan Babaie, Stefano Carboni, Aimee Froom, Marie Lukens Swietochowski, Tomoko Masuya, Annie Christine Daskalakis-Matthews, Abdallah Kahil, and Rochelle Kessler. "Colegio de San Ildefonso, Septiembre de 1994-Enero de 1995." In Arte Islámico del Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva York. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1994. no. 10, pp. 64-65, ill. p. 65 (b/w).
Roxburgh, David J. "Calligraphy and the Qur'an." In Writing the Word of God. Houston, 2007. pp. 8–10.
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. 34, pp. 64-65, ill. p. 65 (color).