The first centuries in the copying of the Qur’an witnessed a succession of changing styles in the manuscript’s calligraphy, decoration, and format. This Qur’an shows many of the changes taking place in the medieval period. Whereas earlier Qur’ans were made of parchment and inscribed in a relatively simple kufic script, this manuscript was created of paper and of an angular script known as "new style script". The folios belong to the last volume of a four-part Qur’an manuscript, other folios of which provide the date of AH Ramadan 383 / AD October–November 993 and indicate that it was copied in the Iranian city of Isfahan. In both its medium and calligraphy, these folios reveal the increasing cultural pull of the eastern edge of the Islamic world, a decided shift from the earlier, Mediterranean- focus of the first Islamic centuries.
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Title:Folios from a Qur'an Manuscript
Date:A.H. 383/ 993 CE
Geography:Made in Iran, Isfahan
Medium:Ink and gold on paper
Dimensions:H. 9 7/16 in. (24 cm) W. 13 13/16 in. (35.1 cm)
Mat: 14 1/4 x 19 1/4 in. (36.2 x 48.9 cm) Frame: 15 1/4 x 20 1/4 in. (38.7 x 51.4 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1940
Accession Number:40.164.5a, b
Bifolio from a Qur'an Manuscript
Some of the new scripts developed from the tenth to the twelfth century in the Near East were employed primarily for religious texts. This bifolio belongs to a manuscript that was conservative in its use of the horizontal format characteristic of Qur’an copies on parchment from the ninth century, but innovative in the script it adopts to transcribe that text. It belongs to the last volume of a four-part Qur’an manuscript, other folios of which (in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul), provide the date of A.H. Ramadan 383 / October–November 993 A.D. and indicate that it was copied in the Iranian city of Isfahan. The text on the Metropolitan Museum’s bifolio, from Sura 54 (al-Qamar, “The Moon”), is discontinuous—one leaf (a) contains verses 6–13, while the other leaf (b) bears verses 31–39—indicating that another bifolio once separated the two. A folio now in the Khalili Collection, London, that contains the end of Sura 53 (al-Najm, “The Star”) along with the chapter heading and first five verses of Sura 54 must have preceded the Metropolitan Museum folios.
Knowing the precise date and place of origin of this manuscript gives it a special importance. Its calligraphy occupies an intermediate zone between the angular script of the earliest Qur’an manuscripts, used here for the heading of Sura 53, and the fluid, more cursive book hands that have been in vogue since the twelfth century. This variant, sometimes called the “new script” or “broken cursive,” shows considerable variety in the size of its letters and width of its strokes. The letters that fall below the baseline are unusually long and create a visual rhythm that propels the eye forward through the text. Another notable stylistic feature is the difference in the sizes of the letters in the word Allah, which appears in both the final verse of Sura 53 and the first line of Sura 54. In both cases, the initial alif is more than twice the height of the others, a contrast that serves to emphasize the word.
Priscilla Soucek in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Déroche, Francois. The Abbasid Tradition: Qur’ans of the Eighth to the Tenth Centuries A.D. The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, edited by Julian Raby, vol. 1. London, 1992, pp. 154–55, no. 83.
2. Déroche, Francois. "Les origines de la calligraphie islamique." In Calligraphie islamique: Textes sacrés et profanes/Islamic Calligraphy: Sacred and Secular Writings. Exhibition, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva, and other venues. Catalogue by David [Lewis] James and others. Geneva, 1988, pp. 24–27, fig. 6; Sotheby’s London, October 13, 1989, lot 76; Déroche 1992, pp. 154–55, no. 83. (see footnote 1)
Inscription: Koran in Arabic language and in Kufic script on 40.164.5a 54:9–13 and on 40.164.5b 54:35–40
[ Mrs. Kamer Aga-Oglu, Ann Arbor, MI, until 1940; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Calligraphy West of China," March 15–May 7, 1972, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balcony Calligraphy Exhibition," June 1–October 26, 2009, no catalogue.
Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 50, no. 1 (Summer 1992). (r) p. 10, ill. fig. 11 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Priscilla P. Soucek, Sheila R. Canby, and Navina Haidar, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 52, pp. 90–91, ill. p. 91 (color).
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