This folio was once part of a two-volume Qur'an produced during the Nasrid period in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century. Although paper had reached the Middle East by the tenth century, it did not become widespread in Islamic Spain and North Africa until much later. Despite its conservative use of parchment, this folio displays many characteristics that differentiate it from earlier Qur'an manuscripts. Sura headings in gold kufic script stand out in contrast with the distinctive maghribi script of the text, and gold medallions serve as ornate verse markers.
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Title:Folio from a Qur'an Manuscript
Date:late 13th–early 14th century
Geography:Made in Spain
Medium:Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on parchment
Dimensions:H. 21 1/16 in. (53.5 cm) W. 22 in. (55.9 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1942
Folio from a Qur'an Manuscript
Few luxury Qur’ans from thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Spain and North Africa exceeded twenty inches (approximately half a meter) in width and height, and even fewer of that size on parchment have survived. It seems that these two characteristics were combined in only one example, to which this individual folio originally belonged. The most distinctive qualities of Spanish and Moroccan Qur’an manuscripts were established in the Almoravid and Almohad periods and are still evident in this manuscript page: a roughly square format, the archaic use of parchment at a time when paper had become the most common support, and a spidery calligraphy known as maghribi (Western Islamic) script.
This folio therefore belonged to one of the most ambitious and largest (if not the largest) parchment Qur’an manuscripts ever produced in the medieval Maghrib. A two-volume Qur’an now in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in Istanbul seems to provide a good match for the dimensions, calligraphic style, and illumination of the Museum’s folio. Copied on both sides (recto and verso), this folio contains the first four verses and most of verse 5 of Sura 39 (al-Zumur, "Of the Crowds"), which was revealed in Mecca and includes a total of seventy-five verses. The recto is particularly notable. Its first line, which gives the heading for the Sura, is copied in an intricate, dramatic kufic gold script outlined in red and ending in an impressive circular pendant; the pendant itself is outlined in blue and filled with a densely illuminated but perfectly balanced scrolling composition in red and gold. The end of each verse is highlighted by a small but prominent circular medallion including a white interlacing geometric motif and the word aya (verse) in blue; on the verso, the fifth verse is emphasized in the margins of the page with a larger pointed medallion including the word khamsa (five) in white.
The seven amply spaced lines of text on each page were copied in black ink that has subsequently turned brownish against the slippery surface of the parchment. Diacritical and reading marks were added in blue, orange, and green pigments. Although the overall effect of the calligraphy is squarish, uniform, and balanced, the deep, curving, almost semicircular endings of some of the letters brilliantly tie the text together and punctuate its rhythm, not unlike the notes in a musical score. Considering that Qur’an means "recitation," this monumental maghribi calligraphy splendidly illustrates how writing, reading, and reciting can coalesce in a truly superb combination.
Stefano Carboni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Şahin, Seracettin. The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts: Thirteen Centuries of Glory from the Umayyads to the Ottomans. New York, 2009, pp. 86–89, and Lings, Martin. Splendours of Qur’an Calligraphy and Illumination. 2004. Vaduz, Liechtenstein, 2005, p. 52, pls. 166–69.
2. The heading states that the number of verses is seventy-two, which may correspond to a specific division of the text used in the Maghrib.
This page once belonged to a magnificent and monumental manuscript of the Qur'an probably produced under Nasrid patronage in Granada. While in the central and eastern countries of the Islamic world the use of parchment was virtuall abandoned by the end of the 10th century in favor of paper, in North Africa and Spain it remained widely employed for court-style manuscripts, especially Qur'ans. The first line of text, written in a compact, crowded, and bold Kufic script, is outlined in black ink, filled with gold, and its edges are shaded in red, this last being a rather peculiar and effective ornament. This line contains the title of sura XXXIX, called al-Zumar (of The Companies) which is composed of 75 verses. At the end of the line, on the left, the large medalion filled with a dense vegetal scroll motif in gold underlines the decorative aspect of the sura heading. Two smaller medallions with interlacing patterns are placed at the end of the first two verses of the sura. The style of script seen in the six lines of text below the title is called Maghribi (western) because it is typical of manuscripts produced in North Africa (Egypt excluded) and Spain. It seems that this particular style developed also according to "technical" aspects: the calligraphers had to concentrate on the perfection of complete words rather than of single letters, this last aspect being peculiar to the schools of calligraphy in the eastern countries. The result is a highly appealing, fine script in which the straight vertical lines are diminshed by the beautiful, rounded letters, many of which end below the line in an almost perfect semicircle. The photograph shows the recto of the page.
Stefano Carboni in [Walker et al. 1994]
Inscription: Sura 39: 1–5 (al-Zumar)
In Arabic language and in Kufic script title of Quran chapter:
سورة الزمر اثنتان و سبعون آیة مکیة
al-Zumur chapter, 72 verses of Mukka
The rest is verses 1, 2 and part of 3 of chapter 39.
[ Mrs. Kamer Aga-Oglu, Ann Arbor, MI, until 1942; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Educated Eye: Studies in Curatorial Problems," January 1973.
Berlin. Museum für Islamische Kunst, Pergamonmuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. "The Arts of Islam. Masterpieces from the M.M.A.," June 15, 1981–August 8, 1981, no. 44.
Mexico City. Colegio de San Ildefonso. "Arte Islámico del Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva York," September 30, 1994–January 8, 1995, no. 3.
The Hagop Kevorkian Special Exhibitions Gallery, New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Nature of Islamic Ornament Part II: Vegetal Patterns," September 10, 1998–January 10, 1999, no catalogue.
New York. The Hagop Kevorkian Special Exhibitions Gallery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Making the Invisible Visible," April 2–August 4, 2013, no catalogue.
Aanavi, Don. "Western Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 27, no. 3 (November 1968). p. 199, ill. (b/w).
Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). ill. p. 15 (b/w).
"Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York." In The Arts of Islam. Berlin, 1981. no. 44, pp. 122–23, ill. (color).
Welch, Stuart Cary. The Islamic World. vol. 11. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. pp. 56–57, ill. fig. 41 (color).
Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 50, no. 1 (Summer 1992). p. 33, ill. fig. 40 (color).
Burn, Barbara, ed. Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York; Boston: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. p. 82, ill. (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. 3, pp. 50–51, ill. (color).
Ali, Wijdan. The Arab Contribution to Islamic Art : From the Seventh to the Fifteenth Centuries. Jordan: The Royal Society of Fine Arts, Jordan, 1999. p. 123, ill. fig. 82 (b/w).
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. 32, pp. 61–62, ill. (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam, and Claire Moore, ed. "A Resource for Educators." In Art of the Islamic World. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. pp. 44–45, ill. pl. 3 (color).
Ekhtiar, Maryam. How to Read Islamic Calligraphy. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018. no. 20, pp. 68, 88–89, ill.
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