Folio from a Qur'an Manuscript, Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

Folio from a Qur'an Manuscript

Object Name:
Folio from a non-illustrated manuscript
ca. 1180
Attributed to Eastern Iran or present-day Afghanistan
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
H. 11 3/4 in. (29.8 cm)
W. 8 3/4 in. (22.2 cm)
Credit Line:
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Gift of Horace Havemeyer, 1929
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 451
This folio from a dispersed Qur'an exemplifies the transition during the Seljuq period from Qur'ans written in kufic script on parchment to those copied in the more rounded new-style writing on paper. By the late twelfth century, the practitioners of the new style had perfected its mannered, slightly eccentric forms. As seen here, these include the extreme elongation of tall letters and the ellipse formed by combining two of these letters, lam and alif.

These two folios (MMA 29.160.24, .25) from a dispersed Qur’an exemplify the transition during the Seljuq period from Qur’ans written in squared kufic script on parchment to those written in the more rounded new-style script on paper.[1] As is evident from the roughly contemporaneous Hamadan Qur'an (cat. 181 in this volume, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia NE-P 27) of 1164, the new style was not uniformly adopted in Iran, but by the late twelfth century its practitioners had perfected its mannered, slightly eccentric forms. In this manuscript the script is characterized by the extreme elongation of tall letters, particularly lam, alif, and kaf. The lamalif combination, which appears three times on the right-hand page (MMA 29.160.25) is distinctively written in the shape of an ellipse with a flattened trefoil at its base. On the left-hand page (MMA 29.160.24) letters that extend below the line of the text, such as nun and alif maqsura, are written on the diagonal with a narrow stroke that widens and terminates in a bowl shape.

The folios come from sura 5 of the Qur’an but are not contiguous, with verses 12 and 13 on the right page and verses 22 to 24 on the left [2]. The original manuscript consisted of thirty parts, for reading one volume each day of the month. In addition to the script the rich decoration of looping vines, blossoms, and leaves between the lines of text sets the manuscript apart from most others copied in this script, with the exception of one Qur’an signed by a Ghaznavid scribe and dated A.H. 573/ A.D. 1177–78.[3] On the basis of its stylistic relationship to this latter Qur’an, this manuscript has been dated to about 1180 and assigned to the eastern Iranian world. However, comparable decorative leaf forms can be found in the mid-twelfth-century Gunbad-i ’Alaviyan at Hamadan as well as on lusterware ceramics presumably made in Kashan,[4] which could indicate that the manuscript was made in a place closer to central Iran.

Sheila R. Canby in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]


1. Déroche, François in The Abbasid Tradition: Qur’ans of the 8th to the 10th Centuries AD.The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, edited by Julian Raby, vol. 1. London and Oxford, 1992, p. 132, calls this script “New Style” and iterates the names by which it has previously been described.

2. Saint Laurent, Béatrice. “The Identification of a Magnificent Koran Manuscript.” In Les manuscrits du Moyen-Orient: Essais de codicologie et de paléographie; Actes du Colloque d’Istanbul (Istanbul, 26–29 mai 1986), edited by François Déroche, pp. 115–24. Varia Turcica, 8. Istanbul and Paris, 1989, p. 116, states that all of the folios in American and European collections come from suras 4 and 5, volume 6 of a 30-part Qur’an; folios in an Iraqi collection come from sura 16; and a bound volume of the manuscript in the Tokapı Sarayı Library contains suras 18–20, volume 16.

3. Saint Laurent 1989 (reference in note 2 above), p. 121; Shah ‘Abbas: The Remaking of Iran. Exh. cat., The British Museum, London. Catalogue by Sheila R. Canby. London, 2009, p. 202.

4. See cats. 61 (al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait [LNS 903 C]), 78 (Victoria and ALbert Museum, London [C51-1952]), and 135 (Keir Collection [K.1.2014.350]) in this volume. London 2009 (reference in note 3 above), p. 202.
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, New York (until 1929; gifted to MMA)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Celestial Pen: Islamic Calligraphy," September 28, 1982–February 7, 1983, 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. 2.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25, 2016–July 24, 2016, no. 183.

Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 50, no. 1 (Summer 1992). p. 10, ill. fig. 12 (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. 2, pp. 48-49, ill. p. 49 (b/w).

Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, and Martina Rugiadi. "The Great Age of the Seljuqs." In Court and Cosmos. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 183, p. 283, ill. (color).