Manuscript on paper, Timurid, Central Asia (probably Herat), c.1500.


Folio, 294 x 203mm. 255 unnumbered ll., gatherings of 8 ll., last of 7, text complete. Manuscript on ivory paper, black and gold ink, Arabic, 13 lines per full page, first, middle and last line in muhaqqaq, remainder in naskh, circular verse markers in gold, ruled in green, red and gold. First verso and second recto with splendid illumination: outer border with interlacing fleurons in orange, red, white and yellow over a black background, and quadrilobed decoration over red and green; upper and lower panels within gilt, finely tooled ropework, and polychrome interlacing fleurons over blue, gilt panels in white Eastern Kufic over green interlacing centrifugal tendrils, small circular eptalobed motif with clovers over a black background, geometrical quadrilobed decoration with white interlacing tendrils over red; two lateral panels with polychrome fleurons over a blue or black background, small arabesque gilt almond and palmettes; text of the first and (beginning of) second surah within gilt cloud decoration. Traces of mistarah, all leaves inset within probably C18 watermarked laid paper, initial and final fore-edges minimally frayed, occasional thumb marks, last two ll. replaced in impeccable black and gold naskh on laid paper c.1680. Very minor loss to border decoration of second leaf towards lower inner gutter, illuminated border trimmed close, couple of very tiny worm holes, occasional small clean tears without loss, some expertly repaired, a very few restorations, the odd minor ink splash or mark. A very good copy in an uncommon C18 composite full leather binding, reusing c.1600 Safavid doublures and covers, olive green goatskin to boards, single and double gilt ruled, decorated with gilt arabesque cornerpiece inlays, arabesque almond-shaped centrepiece inlay with (above and below) gilt arabesque fleuron and elongated geometrical medallion inlay; flat spine (two-piece), rear board extending into flap (using outer edges of doublure as turn-outs) with olive green goatskin decorated with gilt arabesque cornerpiece and medallion inlays. Doublures in fine light brown goatskin, continuing onto the inner flap, outer border with gilt filegree decoration over alternating green and blue, central panel gilt-ruled with filigree cornerpieces and almond-shaped centrepiece over blue background. Spine and tiny portion of cover edges repaired (C18), minor scuffing occasionally affecting gilt filigree, lower joint of flap a bit cracked but firm.

A beautiful, finely decorated manuscript Qur’an, on ivory paper, in a very uncommon decorated binding with fore-edge flap. The use of muhaqqaq for the first, middle and last line of each text page, and the lingering presence of Eastern Kufic in the cartouches at head and foot, point to c.1500. Close decorative patterns were traced in manuscripts produced c.1500-1540s in late Timurid / early Safavid Herat, in present day Afghanistan, e.g., Cleveland Museum of Art 1924.746. The prevalence of gatherings of 8 ll. is also more frequent in Central Asian manuscripts.

The interesting composite binding is an uncommon, skilled technique, of which Dr K. Scheper only records 5 known instances at Leiden UL and 1 at LC. Composite bindings are ‘intriguing’ and ‘complicated’, and ‘the technique itself is easily overlooked because the final result is not decidedly different from that of a typical well-made decorated full-leather binding’ (Scheper, p.256). Here the binding bears central gilt-tooled inlays in olive green goatskin, single gilt ruled at their juncture with the lighter brown goatskin of the board edges, both types of leather having been paired to the same thickness. The lighter leather at the board edges comes in fact from the turn-outs of the doublures, folded over to create contrasting colours (Scheper, pp.256-8, n.37). Similar doublures, with the same colour patterns and quadrilobed decoration, have been traced to Safavid Herat, c.third quarter of the C16 (Louvre, shelfmark AD 6262). The board decoration, heavily influenced by Ottoman models, is also compatible with the style of c.1600 Central Asia.

A most interesting Qur’an, with unusual features.

M. Lings, The Qur’an (1976); F. Déroche, Islamic Codicology (2005); K. Scheper, The Technique of Islamic Bookbindings (2014); S. Blair, Islamic Calligraphy (2016); C. Baker, Qur’an Manuscripts (2007); M. Efthymiou, L’art du livre en Asie centrale de la fin du XVIe siècle au début du XXe siècle (2015). We would like to thank Dr Karin Scheper for discussing the binding with us.
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