Tunisia, probably Qairawan
Gold and silver on indigo-dyed parchment
11 15/16 x 15 13/16 in. (30.4 x 40.2 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2004 (2004.88)
This folio was once bound in a multivolume manuscript known as the Blue Qur'an because of its unique indigo-dyed surface. It is one of the most memorable and celebrated works of Islamic art. Although the calligraphy is the type of angular kufic common to most contemporaneous Qur'an manuscripts, it was copied in gold instead of black ink. The gold and the use of now-oxidized silver to mark verse separation make it a uniquely lavish, prized, and costly work. Firm chronology and places of production for early Arabic calligraphy are far from understood, but it seems likely that the Blue Qur'an was copied in North Africa—probably intended as an endowment for the mosque of Kairouan (Tunisia)—in the early tenth century. If so, it may have been commissioned by the recently established and fast-rising Fatimid dynasty (909–1171), which would conquer Egypt and Syria and found the city of Cairo. The choice of blue, gold, and silver may represent an attempt to emulate and surpass imperial purple-dyed Byzantine codices in richness, thereby making a powerful political and religious statement. The largest section of the manuscript is in Tunis, and the volume from which the present page comes was apparently dispersed during the Ottoman domination in North Africa.