Illuminated Panel and Qurʼanic Chapter


This illuminated rectangular panel appears at the very beginning of a Qurʼan executed in early Naskh script, dating from about the 11th–13th centuries. On the verso of the folio appears al-Fatihah (The opening), the first chapter of the Qurʼan. Ornamental pages such as this one decorate the start or end of Qurʼans from the ninth century onward. Also called "carpet pages," they provide an ornamental and structural break in the manuscript. Rectangular panels filled with geometric motifs and provided with a finial or leaf-like medallion on the side trace their origins back to Roman tabulae ansatae (inscription panels), which were bound together by an ansa (handle). In this way, the pattern provides a visual reminiscence of plaques or folios, bound together into a whole or codex, evoking the concept of the Qurʼan as written on tablets. It states (85:21–22): fi lawhin mahfuz (This is the Glorious Qurʼan inscribed on a Preserved Tablet). This particular illuminated page includes a rectangular panel filled with four diamond-shaped polygons emanating from a central four-pointed star. In each diamond polygon appears a series of concentric circles outlined in light-brown ink. The central four-pointed star and other interlacing polygons include floral designs on an orange-toned background. The central panel is framed by a series of borders, the first of which consists of an abstract braided motif executed in gold paint. The finial projecting into the left margin is executed in gold and outlined with a thick line of purple-brown ink. This folio includes all but one line of al-Fatihah. (The remaining line appears on another folio that is in the Library of Congress.) Executed in early Naskh script, fully vocalized in black ink on vellum, this fragmentary Qurʼan may have been produced in Iraq or Syria. It foreshadows the development of cursive script under the Mamluks, who ruled in Egypt and Syria during the 14th and 15th centuries. The chapter's title appears in the top gold-painted rectangular panel and specifies that this is the chapter Fatihat al-Kitab (The Opening of the Book) and comprises seven ayat (verses). A finial jets out into the left margin from the topmost rectangular panel, recalling the ansa or finial provided as a decorative motif on the folio's verso. The rectangular panel below the text is filled with a braided pattern, while its marginal finial is now missing. Instead, a hole has been pierced through the vellum. Verse markers consist of rosettes filled with gold paint and with red circles dotting their perimeters.

Last updated: April 6, 2015