This manuscript is one of the most important Qur'ans to appear on the market in recent years. It has a colophon stating that it was copied by the great Islamic calligrapher Yaqut al-Musta`simi, and despite the extreme rarity of genuine examples of his hand, and the large number of medieval and later forgeries, there is substantial and compelling evidence that this particular volume is by the hand of Yaqut himself.
The name Yaqut has, for over seven centuries, inspired a frisson of excitement among all lovers of Islamic calligraphy. So revered was he in his lifetime and in the subsequent centuries that he has become an almost legendary figure, a giant among calligraphers, the apotheosis of scribes. Indeed it is safe to say that he is by far the most famous calligrapher in the history of Islamic art, and that his works have been, for over 700 years, perhaps the most sought after examples of the Islamic arts of the book. His fame and popularity has led to certain problems of attribution and authenticity, but the present manuscript has many features which strongly support both a 13th-century date and the hand of Yaqut himself. The history of Yaquti Qur'ans is long and complicated, but has been clarified to some extent in recent years by informative essays by David James (James 1992, pp.58-9, where a listing of his accepted and attributed works can be found in footnotes 7 and 8), and Sheila Blair (Blair 2006, pp.242-7). It is still the case that a genuine example of Yaqut's pen, perhaps alongside a miniature by Behzad, is considered the ultimate prize of any Islamic art collector, the paragon, the quintessence, the ne plus ultra of this most revered form of artistic production.
Yaqut, whose full name was Abu'l Majd Jamal al-Din Yaqut ibn Abdallah, was born in the first decade of the 13th century. His birthplace is disputed. Some say he was a native of Amasya in central Anatolia, others that he was Abyssinian (see E.I.1, 'YAQUT AL-MUSTA`SIMI', where C.L.Huart gives his origin as Amasi, while Qadi Ahmad suggests that he was Abyssinian, Minorsky 1959, p.57). He was a eunuch and was brought to Baghdad at an early age, where he was taught calligraphy by Safi al-Din Abd al-Mu'min al-Urmawi, one of the leading masters of the day and a court calligrapher to the last Abbasid caliph and the Mongol conqueror Hulegu. During his career Yaqut was employed as an official secretary and chancery scribe (katib al-Diwan) both before and after the Mongol invasion of 1258, and was the librarian of the famous Mustansiriyyah College in Baghdad. He is believed to have been a slave of the last Abbasid Caliph al-Musta`sim, hence his nisba 'Musta`simi'.
Yaqut was also a teacher of calligraphy and numbered among his pupils six who were to become well-known in their own right in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. They included Arghun al-Kamili, Abdallah al-Sayrafi and Ahmad al-Suhrawardi (the exact identities of the other pupils varies according to different sources, see Huart 1908, pp.86-7). He was said to have been a strict tutor and demanded constant practice from his pupils. He himself is said to have practised every day by copying two sections of the Qur'an. Indeed, he is said to have continued his strict regime even during the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258 by secluding himself at the top of a minaret. A 16th-century miniature in the well-known treatise on calligraphers by Qadi Ahmad shows him doing just that, surrounded by anxious-looking citizens and with flames from the burning city flickering around (see Safadi 1978, p.18).
In technical terms Yaqut's fame is based not only on his skill and mastery of the 'Six Pens', but also on his importance as a reformer. He is said to have developed a new style of naskh script by trimming the point of his nib in a particular manner and also reformed and enhanced the thuluth script. The sixteenth-century biographer Qadi Ahmad describes Yaqut's reforms as follows:
"In the art of writing he followed the tradition of Ibn Bawwab, but in the trimming of the qalam and in the clipping of its nib he altered the manner of the earlier masters: ...'Cut the qalam so that its point be long, and leave it thick; cut the end of the qalam at an angle...' Thus he altered both the rule and the writing... For this reason his writing is preferred to that of Ibn-Bawwab for its fineness and elegance... in these styles of writing Yaqut showed solidity, beauty, and clarity - none better than he has ever been found. He wrote in these six styles of writing with extreme elegance and beauty...." (Minorsky 1959, pp.57-58)
He died in Baghdad around the year A.D.1298 (the exact date of his death is not known) and is buried near the grave of the well-known jurist Ahmad ibn Hanbal.
The manuscript is of a small format, quite square in shape, and with compact text lines. There are 237 folios, including 8 flyleaves. The Qur'anic text comprises 229 folios, of which 179 are original, one is partly original and partly-15th-century replacement (the colophon page), and 49 are 19th-century replacements.
The original folios are as follows:
The replacement folios are as follows:
The manuscript is very similar in several aspects to one other particular example of Yaqut's work that is generally accepted by scholars as being in his hand, a Qur'an in the Topkapi Saray Library, Istanbul (E.H.76), dated 669/1270-71. It is illustrated as nos.24-25 of Martin Lings's 1976 book The Qur'anic Art of Calligraphy and Illumination (Westerham, 1976), and again as nos.32-33 of the 2005 edition of this book, Splendours of Qur'an Calligraphy and Illumination (Vaduz, 2005). The similarities include the size, the format, the script and the design of the sura headings. All these aspects will be explained more fully below.
THE HISTORY OF THE MANUSCRIPT
The present manuscript has undergone at least two changes and refurbishments over the centuries, and unravelling these is very helpful in coming to an understanding of the original aspects of the book and the subsequent history. The evidence in the manuscript itself and the information in the flyleaves indicates a probable sequence as follows:
1. Written in 676/1277-8, probably in Baghdad (see fig.2).
2. Re-furbished in Iran in the late 15th century, probably at the Timurid court of Herat (see fig.1). The style of the illumination on the opening double page is very close to other manuscripts produced at that court, e.g. a Bustan of Sa`di dated 893/1488, with miniatures attributed to Behzad (The "Cairo Bustan", Egyptian National Library, ms. Farsi 908, see Lentz and Lowry 1989, cat.146, p.237); a Diwan of Sultan Husayn Mirza, circa 1490, (Istanbul, TIEM, Ms.1926, see Lentz and Lowry 1989, cat.148, p.268); a detached page from the same manuscript (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.73.5.599, see Lentz and Lowry 1989, cat.149, p.270). The Timurid refurbishment would have included: a) the re-margining of all the folios with the inclusion of the majority of the marginal illuminated devices for fifth and tenth verse divisions (see fig.3), but with Yaqut's original textual corrections, two instances of marginal wording (Juz` markers), and two instances of original 13th-century marginal illuminated devices left intact, where the re-marginer has cut around them, leaving them attached to the text area, (see below for fuller explanation); b) the illumination of the opening double page; c) the replacement of one and parts of another folio at the end (f.236 and part of 237, leaving the colophon intact); d) the interlinear gold decoration; e) the floral lacquer binding.
3. Between the 15th century and the 19th century the history of the manuscript becomes confused. There are numerous notes and seal impressions on the flyleaves, the majority of which are almost certainly later, or even modern, interpolations (there are inconsistencies in both the dates and historical facts, and at least one seal is actually stuck on with paste). However, one set of seals may be authentic (the square red ones on ff.9a and 237b), and these indicate that the manuscript was in Persian hands in the mid-18th century, specifically in the ownership of Prince Sulayman Mirza al-Safavi, a grandson of Sulayman I Safavi, who ruled in Mashhad for one year in 1750 during the Afsharid period.
4. The manuscript must have been in India in the 19th century, for it underwent a second refurbishment, the style of which is unmistakably of that date and origin. The refurbishment included: a) the narrow decorative band of gilt floral scrolling around the edge of the text area on every page (see fig.3); b) the 49 replacement leaves; c) the addition of some of the flyleaves at the beginning.
THE EVIDENCE OF YAQUTI ORIGINS
There are several pieces of evidence in the present manuscript which support both the penmanship of Yaqut and the late-13th-century date of the codex.
1. As stated above, the pages have been re-margined throughout, excising most of the original illumination and replacing it with late-15th-century Iranian work. However, on two occasions, ff.160a and 160b (i.e. back to back), the re-marginer has left the original illuminated roundels in the margin, cutting around the outside of the devices and leaving them intact and still attached to the paper of the text area (see figs.4a,4b,5a,5b). (There is another instance, on f.187a, where the retention of one of the original textual corrections by the Timurid re-marginer has also retained a small portion of another original illuminated roundel) That both the illuminated roundels and the text are on the same piece of paper is proven by careful examination under magnification and by the fact that the gold thuluth wording which accompanies one of the roundels (f.160b, it is both a tenth verse marker and a Juz` division, the wording being al-juz` al-thani wa `ashruwn) extends across the margin rules from the space around the roundel into the text area. The style of the illuminated roundels is entirely consistent with a date in the late-13th century. This single piece of evidence is the most important, as it points very strongly to the fact that the origins of the manuscript lie in the time of Yaqut's life. The style of illuminated roundels is quite simple, with concentric gold and blue circular bands, the central gold disc containing the word ' `ashr ' in gold Kufic script. It can be related to similar devices on several dated Qur'an manuscripts as follows: a Qur'an from Mosul dated 647/1249-50 (Christie's, London, 16 October 2001, lot 12; the Yaqut Qur'an dated 669/1270-1 in the Topkapi Saray Library mentioned above (E.H.76, see Lings 1976, nos.24-25, Lings 2005, 32-33); a manuscript dated 673/1274 (Christie's, London, 20 October 1992, lot 236); a manuscript signed by Yaqut al-Musta`simi and dated 681/1282 (Sotheby's, London, 20 July 1977, lot 234); a Qur'an copied by Ahmad ibn al-Suhrawardi (a pupil of Yaqut) in 701/1301-2, now in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (Ms.1467, see James 1980, no.42); another Qur'an by al-Suhrawardi, dated 701-07/1302-08 (James 1988, cat.39); a manuscript copied by Arghun al-Kamili, dated, 720/1320 (TIEM, Istanbul, K.202, see James 1988, cat. 49); a Qur'an dated 723/1323, in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (Ms.1473, see James 1980, no.29); Qur'an by `Abdallah al-Sayrafi dated 728/1328 in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (Ms.1468, see Lings 2005, no.47), Qur'an dated 744/1343-4 in the Topkapi Saray Library (Y.365, see Lings 2005, no.52).
2. Similarly to point 1, on f.176a there is the wording that marks the start of Juz` 24 written in gold thuluth script in the margin. Once again the re-marginer has again cut around this original feature, leaving it intact and joined to its original text area (see fig.6). The same has happened on f.201b, where the re-marginer has cut around the original sajda just above the sura heading (see fig.7). The style of the script and the fact that the words are written vertically in the margin is extremely close to similar features on E.H.76 in the Topkapi, (see Lings 1976, no.24 and 2005, no.33 where the illustration shows a double page with a sajda marker written in exactly the same manner).
3. The sura headings as they now appear are written in thuluth script in different coloured gouache inks, and sometimes in gold, and are surrounded by scrolling polychrome illumination. However, this is not the original scheme, the illumination and coloured inks being probably one of the Timurid embellishments (see fig.8). This is evident on several of the sura headings where the paint has flaked away, leaving the original gold thuluth lettering visible, and the lack of surrounding illumination. The best examples of this are on ff.f.95b (Surat al-Ra`d), f.157b (Surat al-Sajda), f.213a (Surat al-Taghabun), f.226b (Surat `Abasa), f.231b (Surat al-Layl), and f.235b (Surat al-Quraysh and Surat al-Din/al-Ma`un). The unadorned gold thuluth sura titles in their original form would have been very similar in style and design to those on Topkapi E.H.76 (Lings, ibid). Equally, where the sura titles are still written in gold in the present state of this manuscript, close examination makes it apparent that in several cases the Timurid illuminator has carefully painted round the original gold letters, slightly overlapping them in some cases, and subtly changing the feel of the script, from a slightly portly thuluth to a more slender script verging on rayhani: i.e. where the sura titles are written in gold, in some cases this is the original gold of Yaqut's period, but has been surrounded by the Timurid illumination. A good example of this is on f.235b, the heading of Surat al-Quraysh.
4. This change in the design of the sura titles is also indicated by the presence in the top left corner of some of the sura heading panels of the original vowel markers, especially the doubled fathha (tanwin //), and the tashdid, which are visible in gold poking up above the upper edge of the illuminated panel (see figs.8 and 9). Good examples of these can be seen on ff.26a,85b,95b,113b,123b,131b,147a,151a,174b,177b.
5. The wording of sura titles does not always include word sura itself (see fig.3). This occurs on many of the sura headings, e.g. f.61b (al-`Araf), f.95b (al-Ra`d), f.108a (Banu Isra'el, f.120a (Ta Ha), f.127a (al-Hajj), f.130b (al-Muminun). This is also a feature of the Topkapi Yaqut Qur'an E.H.76 (again, see illustration in Lings 1976, no24, 2005, no.33).
6. The text of the manuscript is written in a small, very neat naskhi script of a clipped style and rhythm. The type has come to be known as "Yaquti", and the general characteristics apparent here are close to other examples of his hand. In particular, the script here is extremely close to that of the Topkapi Yaqut Qur'ans in E.H.76, and there is a specific aspect which is important as a diagnostic feature. In his 1992 essay David James points out (p.59) that one particular Qur'an in naskhi script supposedly written by Yaqut, but very possibly a 14th-century facsimile, features a terminal nun that stretches under the line for as much 5 or 6 letter-spaces (Topkapi Saray Library, Ms.E.H.74, see Lings 1976, no.26). This is unusual and distinctive, and James suggests that it is a characteristic of later post-Yaquti facsimiles. In contrast, the majority of Qur'ans written in naskhi script by Yaqut that are considered authentic feature a terminal nun that does not stretch unduly, but reaches only just below the first one or two letters of the next word. This is easily seen in the Basmallahs of sura openings, where the word Rahman always offers an example of a terminal nun. On Topkapi E.H.76 (considered authentic) this is indeed the style, as it is on a Qur'an by Yaqut in the Iran Bastan Museum Tehran (Ms.4277, see Lings 1976, no.22, Blair 2005, fig.7.1), and on a Qur'an by Yaqut sold in these rooms, 20 July 1977, lot 234. It is also the style consistently used throughout the present manuscript (see fig.7).
7. On the present manuscript the single verse markers are small rosettes with blue dots, and are very close to those on Topkapi E.H.76 and on another Qur'an signed by Yaqut in Tehran (Ms.4277, see Lings 1976, no.22, Blair 2005, fig.7.1), on a third Yaquti manuscript, Mashhad Shrine Library, Ms.120, Lings 1976, no.28) and on other Qur'an manuscripts of the period (see list in point 1, above).
8. On many occasions throughout the manuscript there is evidence that the original scribe (i.e. Yaqut) omitted words in his copying, and then added them immediately afterwards when checking the text. These are evident on many pages on the edge of the text area adjacent to the relevant lines of text (see, for examples, ff.34a,40a,43b,53a,82a,137a,176a,178a). Once again the Timurid re-marginer has cut around the outside of these words, leaving the original paper intact (see figs.6 and 10). Close inspection under magnification reveals them to be written in the same type of ink as the main body of text, and there is no reason to think them anything other than contemporary with the main text itself. Once again this feature is present on another Yaqut Qur'an, this time the Tehran manuscript 4277. For an illustration of this feature in the Tehran manuscript see, Blair, fig 7.1
9. Finally, the structure of the paper of the text areas is consistent with Arabic paper of the 13th century, and is different in structure from the margins (Timurid) and the replacement pages (19th-century Indian).
The binding is a fine example of late Timurid lacquerwork, and in this sense is a rarity in its own right (see fig.11). It is close in style to an example in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (Mss. Or. Persan 357, see Richard 1997, no.59, p.85).
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