August 11, 2011

The Opening

This calligraphic panel includes the bismillah (In the name of God) at the top, followed by the Qurʼan's first surah (chapter), al-Fatihah (The opening). The surah introduces the Qurʼan by praising God and asking for his guidance to the right path. On the last line, the Fatihah panel is signed by a certain 'Aliriza and dated A.H. 1241 (A.D. 1825). The entire specimen is calligraphed in dark brown naskh (cursive) script on a beige paper, which is framed by a series of alternating gold and dark blue frames and pasted on a thick cardboard backing. 'Aliriza may be the 19th-century Persian calligrapher 'Aliriza b. Hajji Muhammad Ja'far, who executed a calligraphic work dated 1258 (1842) that is now in the National Library of Iran. 'Aliriza's work shows a revival of interest in the naskh script during the modern period and appears indebted to the work of his predecessor, the famous 18th-century Persian calligrapher Ahmad Nayrizi. Nayrizi was the last great calligrapher of Iran to master the naskh script at a time when preference was given to the ta'liq and nasta'liq scripts.

Qurʼan Carpet Page

This folio contains an opening carpet page of a Qurʼan. It is the first of five folios belonging to a dispersed Qurʼan manuscript in the collections of the Library of Congress. Together with another folio, this folio constitutes the double-page illuminated frontispiece of a beautiful, albeit damaged, 14th-century Mamluk Qurʼan. This folio contains verses 76–78 of the 56th chapter of the Qurʼan, al-Waqi'ah (The inevitable), contained in the top and bottom rectangular panels of the double-page illuminated frontispiece. The next folio continues the inscription with verses 56:79–80. The verses introduce the Qurʼan as a blessed and precious book revealed by God, which must be touched only by those who are pure both physically and psychologically. All or parts of these five verses appear on decorative carpet pages intended to begin the Qurʼan or to separate various parts of it. They remind the reader of the sacred character of the Qurʼan, while providing an artistic, visual break from the text itself. The decorative patterns and palette of this carpet page are typical of 14th-century Mamluk Qurʼans made in Egypt. The centerpiece consists of a hexagon prolonged to form alternating gold and blue polygons and four eight-pointed stars in each corner of the rectangular frame. The lines creating the forms, just like the inscriptions, are executed in white ink. The polygons alternate between gold designs on a blue ground and a blue design on a gold ground, while the eight-pointed stars contain palmette and bulb-like gold motifs on a blue ground. The border around the edge of the panel consists of interlacing gold zigzags.

The Cow

This folio includes, below an illuminated rectangular panel, part of the last verse of the Qurʼan's first chapter, al-Fatihah (The opening). Below the last line of al-Fatihah appears the title, executed in gold and outlined in black, of the Qurʼan's second chapter, al-Baqarah (The cow). The heading states that the chapter consists of 287 verses. After the chapter heading follows an initial bismillah (In the name of God), the mysterious letters alif and mim, and the first verse: “This is the Book; without a doubt, in it is guidance for those who fear God.” The verses on the reverse side of the fragment warn that those who feign belief in God only deceive themselves. Executed in early naskh script on vellum, this fragmentary Qurʼan probably dates from the 11th–13th centuries and 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 decorative panels with braided motifs executed in gold paint include finials jetting out into the left margin. The text is fully vocalized in black ink. Verse markers consist of eight-petal rosettes filled with gold paint and with red circles dotting their perimeters. The folio has worm holes and ink stains on the left vertical border.

Qurʼanic Verses (56:77-9) on Carpet Page

As noted in the red rectangular registers at the top and bottom of this inscribed panel, this folio introduces the 26th juz' (section) of the Qurʼan. The central space includes an inscription containing verses 77–79 of Chapter 56, Surat al-Waqi'ah (The inevitable). These verses typically open the Qurʼan, although they may appear in decorated pages used to separate the ajza' (parts) of the Qurʼan. The surah (chapter) title at the top is executed in gold and outlined in black ink. It specifies that this surah contains 35 verses, while the fragment’s recto introduces the 26th section, of which it constitutes the first chapter. The fragment’s verso includes verses 1–3 of Chapter 46, Surat al-Ahqaf (The winding sand tracts). The script is thuluth, a cursive script typical of the Mamluk period (14th–15th centuries) in Egypt. The background of spiral scrollwork on this decorative page is characteristic of Qurʼans of this period. This chapter is the seventh and last of the ha-mim series (chapters 40–46). It argues that all Creation has a divine purpose. For this reason, the righteous must wait with patience, as Truth and Revelation will be vindicated. The ha-mim letters are the mystery or abbreviated letters, appearing singly or in combination at the beginning of certain chapters in the Qurʼan. The juz' marker forms an artistic break in the Qurʼan. The inscriptions at the top and bottom are executed in gold ink in a black calligraphic outline inscribed on the cream-colored page, placed on a red background with arabesques of blue and green leaves.

al-Baydawi's "Anwar al-tanzil wa asrar al-ta'wil" with Frontispiece

This folio contains the illuminated frontispiece and title from a manuscript of Anwar al-tanzil wa asrar al-ta'wil (The lights of revelation and the secrets of interpretation), a work consisting of a popular Qurʼanic tafsir (exegesis) composed by the 13th-century scholar al-Baydawi. The title appears in the top panel of the frontispiece, in white ink with the letters drawn out at the vertical to fit into the shape of the horizontal register. The white letters are outlined in black ink and emerge from a gold background decorated with blue and white dots. The center panel contains a variety of polygonal shapes interlaced to form a carpet page, with a palette dominated by brown, gold, and blue hues. The centerpiece consists of an octagonal panel containing the author’s names and titles written in white ink on a gold background containing black vine-like designs. Although the panel’s calligraphy is now barely legible, some of al-Baydawi’s titles can be read. They include al-shaykh (the theologian), al-'adil (the just), and al-qadi (the jurist), reflecting the fact that al-Baydawi was a respected and prolific expert on Qurʼanic exegesis and Islamic law, jurisprudence, and theology. The verso of this folio contains the beginning of the work. After an initial bismillah (In the name of God), the commentary begins with a short opening, in which the author praises the value of interpreting the verses of the Qurʼan and argues that Qurʼanic exegesis is at the head of all sciences. The author then gives the name of his work, before launching into the explanation of al-Fatihah (The opening), the first chapter of the Qurʼan. The text itself is executed by an unknown hand in rather rough naskh script in black ink. Sentences are separated by red upturned virgules, and many later notes have been added.

Qurʼanic Verses

This calligraphic fragment includes two separate horizontal panels cut out and pasted onto a cardboard backing. The upper band contains verse 86 of surah (chapter) three of the Qurʼan, Al 'Imran (The family of 'Imran); the lower band includes verse 89 of the same chapter. The surah calls on Muslims to hold together in harmony and friendship. The ayah (verse) marker in the lower band consists of a gold roundel composed of concentric circles outlined in dark brown ink. Three words were omitted from the original text and have been added in smaller script immediately above the main line of text. The text on each panel’s verso can be seen through the paper. These two fragments, pasted together onto a single sheet, come from the same Qurʼan and are executed in a fine muhaqqaq script. Judging from the height of each panel containing a single line of text, the original manuscript must have been large, perhaps 50 centimeters in height with five lines of text per page. In its simplicity and grandeur, the fragment recalls the famous Baysunghur Qurʼan made either in Herat or Samarqand about 1400 A.D., which contained gigantic folios measuring 177 x 101 centimeters, with writing only on their rectos. Although smaller and with writing on its verso, the similarities between this fragment and the Baysunghur Qurʼan suggest that the former may have been made in the early 15th century in Persia or Central Asia.