[QUR\\\'AN]. Miniature Qur’an.

Herat, Manuscript on paper, Muharram AH 963 / November 1555.


Octagonal, 42 x 40mm. 427 paper unnumbered ll., 14 lines of naskh microcalligraphy per page, all leaves within circular ink ruling, heightened in blue and gold, circular verse markers in gold, sura titles in gold thuluth. First verso (sura Al-Fātiḥa) and second recto (beginning of sura Al-Baqarah) with 6 naskh lines of microcalligraphy within handsome sunburst illumination in blue, gold, red and green, last verso with floral decoration in gold. Tiny loss at blank foot of second leaf, couple of very minor tears to blank margins. A fine copy in contemporary dark green goatskin, triple gilt ruled, floral decoration to covers, eps in dyed green paper with plant motifs heightened in gold, a.e.g., rear joint starting and just cracked, but firm. Preserved in later octagonal silver box with carved ‘Mushaf Sharif’ (‘Holy Qur’an’) in Arabic script.

An exquisite octagonal miniature ms Qur’an on fine paper, in naskh and thuluth microcalligraphy, dated November 1555 (Muharram al-haram, AH 963). A major centre for ms production in the previous century, by the mid-C16, under the Safavids, Herat still boasted a number of exceptional calligraphers, influenced by the fine C15 Timurid style.

The colophon states the place and date of production, and is signed by the scribe, the last part of his name being ‘al-Qari’. The great ‘hafiz’ (memoriser of the Qur’an) and calligrapher Ali al-Qari (d.1605) was from Herat.

Miniature ms Qur’ans were used for personal devotion and protection, even as late as the C19. In the Ottoman Turkish world, octagonal miniature Qur’ans (‘sancak Qur’ans’), functioning as amulets, encased in a box or fabric pouch, were tied to a military standard and carried to battle. This custom spread as far as India and Persia, where talismanic miniature Qur’ans were also be tied to arm- or wristbands or carried in one’s pocket, and generally close to the body. The present ms is indeed preserved in a (probably later) silver box with two holes to accommodate thread. ‘The desire to bind textual amulets to the body and to keep Qur’anic or other devotional texts close to the self is a materialization of a potent hadith (saying) attributed to Muhammad. […] The physical intimacy of the object worn near or against the owner’s body symbolizes the intimacy between self and God available through the vehicle that is text’ (Gruber, pp.95, 103). Miniature mss, and Qur’ans in particular, also allowed scribes to show off their outstanding skills, by writing ‘dust-like’ (‘ghubar’) calligraphy, in which, as here, ‘alif’, the tallest letter, is no taller than 1mm. However, ‘in miniature Qur’an mss, no matter how tiny the script, readability is never compromised’, even though their owners were not required to actively read the text in order to benefit from its talismanic qualities; indeed, ‘the reduction in scale served to further concentrate or distil its power’ (Ekhtiar, p.98).


The ownership of this ms is recorded in the oral history of the family of Abdulaziz (d.1876), 32nd Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, of the House of Osman, 96th Caliph, and the first ever Ottoman emperor to visit Western Europe. He was interested in literature and classical music; after being deposed in 1876, he died in mysterious circumstances. His daughter, Esma (d.1899), inherited the ms; it later passed to her second son, Huseyin Hayreddine Beyefendi (d.1956), who briefly lived in Cairo, and died in Istanbul. He bequeathed the ms to his brother Saadeddine Mohamed Beyefendi (d.1976). After his death in Beirut, Lebanon, the ms passed to his son, Saadeddine Mohamed Bey Osmansoy.  

S. de Laugier, Manuscrits d[\\\']Afghanistan (1964); M.D. Ekhtiar, How to Read Islamic Calligraphy (2018); H. Coffey, ‘Islamic Miniature Books in the Lilly Library’, in The Islamic Manuscript Tradition, ed. C. Gruber (2010), pp.79-115; S. Blair, Islamic Calligraphy (2005); C. Baker, Qur’an Manuscripts (2007).
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