Qurʼanic Verses


These two calligraphic fragments include verses from the 11th chapter of the Qurʼan, entitled Hud (The prophet Hud). The first fragment's verso includes verses (116−23) of Surat Hud, as well as the chapter heading and first four verses of the 12th surah, entitled Yusuf (Joseph). Surat Hud provides some stories linked to the prophets (e.g., Noah and Moses), stressing the moral lessons learned through such narratives. Many verses are eschatological in character and warn of the punishment awaiting sinners, for example: “The Day it arrives, no soul will speak except by his leave; / of those gathered some will be wretched and some blessed. / Those who are wretched will be in the Fire; / There will be for them nothing but the heaving of sighs and sobs” (11:105-6). At the center of the verso of the first fragment appears the heading of Surat Yusuf, executed in gold ink and outlined in black, specifying that the chapter contains 111 ayat (verses). Beside the heading, a lightly painted blue and gold finial jets out into the right margin as a visual marker for a chapter. Unfortunately, part of the finial was lost to a later cropping of the folio. Surat Yusuf narrates in detail the story of Joseph (similar, but not identical, to Genesis 37−50), sold into slavery by his brothers and later present at the Egyptian court. The narrative takes on symbolic proportions as it is transformed into a parable of the search for true and divine love. The first verse of Surat Yusuf begins with the three mysterious letters alif-lam-ra (a-l-r), which also initiate four other surahs (10, 11, 14, and 15). Some scholars believe that mystical meanings may be read into these al-muqatta'at (abbreviated letters). Within this context, the combination "a-l-r" may be seen as an esoteric stand-in for God, since his epithet "the Merciful" (al-rahman) begins with the letters a, l, and r. The text is executed in Kufi script (New Style I) with thick strokes of black ink, and vowels are marked by red dots. Some diagonal lines representing diacritical marks were added at a later date. Verse markers are very simple and consist of a filled gold central circle outlined by a thin external ring, also executed in gold ink. The script is typical of Qurʼans executed during the 10th−13th centuries. Some decorative shapes appear in the margins: first a gold virgule and, in the center of the folio, a gold and blue roundel. In the lower-right corner of the first fragment there appears a small rectangular panel that repairs a lost portion of the paper and text.

Last updated: April 6, 2015