The stamped and gilded techniques used for this leather binding were common in the Middle East, especially in Iran where the art first developed, and in Turkey, where it was perfected. Central almond-shaped medallions and concave fillings in the four corners are common features of Islamic books. Ottoman book covers with this kind of composition and floral design served as models for a great number of Venetian Renaissance bookbindings and, more surprisingly, Venetian furniture as well.
The art of the book in Safavid times is usually associated with secular illustrated manuscripts, yet religious manuscripts were no less important and could be just as elaborately adorned and bound. This book cover was made for a Qur'an manuscript that has not survived: its border is decorated with elegant cursive Arabic inscriptions in broad cartouches including text from the sayings (hadiths) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad about the importance of reading the sacred book.
Virtually the entire surface is stamped and gilded. The two plates have a central almond-shaped medallion and corner-pieces of a peculiar type, the undulating lines in the corners creating an effect comparable to marbling. The stamped decoration in the central rectangular field features arabesques and cloud bands, a Chinese motif that passed to Safavid bookbinding through the Timurid and Turkoman traditions. In turn, Venetian artists working in various media copied the same arabesque and cloud-band motifs, particularly on shields produced in the Republic at the end of the 16th century.
The inlaid turquoise decoration that enriches the cover of this Qur'an may have been added in Ottoman Turkey. During the Ottoman-Persian wars, Persian manuscripts were brought to Turkey along with bookmakers—especially from the northwestern region of Tabriz—and further ornamented. The flap is also elaborately adorned, using the technique of gilt filigree over paper painted in various colors with an overall pattern of rhomboidal medallions. The use of the filigree technique on a polychrome painted ground was initiated in Shiraz bookbinding during the Timurid and Turkoman periods and became widespread in the second half of the 16th century.
Maria Antonietta Marino in [Carboni 2007]
1. Ernst J. Grube, "Lache venezizne e i loro modelli islamici", in Ernst J. Grube (ed.) with Stefano Carboni and Giovanni Curatola, Venezia e l'Oriente Vicino: Atti del primo simposio sull'arte veneziana e l'arte islamico, Venice, Ateneo Veneto, 1986. Venice 1989, p. 217.
2. Zeren Tanindi, "Safavid bookbiinding", in Jon Thompson and Sheila R. Canby (eds.), Hunt for Paradise, Court Art of Safavid Iran 1501–1576, exh. cat., Asia Society, New York and Museo Poldi Pezzoli and Palazzo Reale, Milan, 2003, pp. 155–83.
Inscription: In Arabic, enclosed in cartouches along the edges of the front cover. Sayings of the Prophet in regard to the importance and advantages of reading the Qur'an.
In Arabic, in two cartouches on back cover. Translation: None shall touch it save the purified ones. A revelation by the Lord of the Worlds. (Qur'an, chapter 16, verses 79-80)
[ John Howell, San Francisco, until 1956; sold to MMA]
Baltimore Museum of Art. "The History of Bookbinding 525–1950A.D.," November 12, 1957–January 12, 1958, no. 87.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Gold," April 14, 1973–September 9, 1973, no catalogue.
Corning, NY. Corning Museum of Glass. "Tales from a King's Book of Kings," November 17, 1973–January 31, 1974, not in catalogue.
Baltimore. Baltimore Museum of Art. "Tales from a King's Book of Kings," February 12, 1974–March 31, 1974, not in catalogue.
Paris. Institut du Monde Arabe. "Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797," October 2, 2006–February 18, 2007, no. 129.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797," March 27, 2007–July 8, 2007, no. 129.
Venice. Musei Civici Venezani. "Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797," July 28, 2007–November 25, 2007, no. 129.
Venice. Sala dello Scrutinio of the Doge's Palace. "Venezia e L'Islam, 828–1797," July 28, 2007–November 25, 2007, no. 103.
Gratzl, Emil. "Book Covers." In Survey of Persian Art, edited by Arthur Upham Pope. vol. III, vol. V. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1939. vol. III, pp. 1974-1994, ill. vol. V. pl. 960A, pl. 966A (similar work).
Walters Art Museum. "An Exhibition Held at the Baltimore Museum of Art November 12, 1957–January 12, 1958." In The History of Bookbinding, 525–1950 AD. Baltimore: Walters Art Museum, 1957. no. 87, ill. pl. XX right.
"Gold." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 31, no. 2 (Winter 1972/1973). pp. 69-121.
Ettinghausen, Richard. "Islamic Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 33, no. 1 (Spring 1975). p. 52, ill. (b/w).
Carboni, Stefano, ed. Venice and the Islamic World, 828–1797. New York and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. no. 129, pp. 240-241, 334, ill. p. 240 (color).
Carboni, Stefano, ed. Venezia e l'Islam, 828–1797. Venice: Marsilio Editori, 2007. no. 103, pp. 259, 348, ill. p. 259 (color).
Denny, Walter B. How to Read Islamic Carpets. New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014. p. 69, ill. fig. 55 (color).