LARGE QUR'AN LEAF IN GOLD KUFIC SCRIPT ON BLUE VELLUM, NORTH AFRICA OR SOUTHERN SPAIN, 9TH-10TH CENTURY
- 28.5 by 38.1cm.
15 lines per page written in stretched Kufic script in gold outlined in reddish-brown ink on blue-dyed vellum, occasional letter pointing of gold diagonal dashes, single verse divisions marked with silver discs decorated with coloured dots, tenth verses marked in the margin with a large silver roundel, faintly incised guidelines
This leaf is from an exceptional manuscript commonly known as the Blue Qur'an. When complete it must have been one of the most luxurious manuscripts ever produced in the early medieval period in the Islamic world. Other examples of dyed vellum are known, but rare, and yellow was the more usual choice of colour. Blue was probably symbolic as well as merely luxurious and it is possible that the blue vellum and gold script together were meant to rival the most luxurious manuscripts of the Byzantine empire which were dyed blue or purple.
The exact origins of the Blue Qur'an are unknown, but several theories have been put forward over the last century. F. R. Martin, who acquired a group of leaves in Istanbul in 1912, suggested that the manuscript was commissioned by the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma'mun for the tomb of his father Harun al-Rashid, and that the dark blue colour of the vellum was a symbol of mourning. However, based on an inventory of the Great Mosque at Qairawan in 1294, (published in 1956 by Chabbouh), which mentions a Qur'an written in gold on blue parchment, J. M Bloom has argued that a North African provenance is the most likely (Bloom, J. M., 'Al-Ma'mun's Blue Koran?', Revue des éudes islamiques, LIV, 1986, pp.59-65; and 'The Blue Koran. An Early Fatimid Kufic manuscript from the Maghrib', Les manuscrits du Moyen-Orient, Varia Turcica, VIII, Istanbul and Paris, 1989, pp.95-99).
More recent research by T. Stanley (Quaritch 1999, pp.7-15) points to an Andalusian patron, and M. Fraser suggests an Aghlabid or Kalbid Sicilian provenance (Fraser and Kwiatkowski, Ink and Gold., p.46). Either way it is probable that the Blue Qur'an was produced in the western Islamic world; strong evidence for this is provided by the use of the letter sad rather than sin for the sixtieth verse in the abjad system of verse markers.
If the exact origins of the manuscript remain obscure it is universally agreed that it is a startlingly luxurious example of Islamic manuscript production, whose patron must have been a ruler of enormous wealth and ambition, and that it was one of the most important manuscripts of the Qur'an produced in the medieval Arab world.
A section of the manuscript is in the National Institute of Art and Archaeology in Tunis, while detached leaves or fragments are in the National Library, Tunis, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge Massachusetts and various private collections including the Sadruddin Aga Khan collection, Geneva, and the Nasser D. Khalili collection, London. Several leaves have been sold in these rooms, most recently 11 October 2006, lot 3, and in the sale of the Collection of the Berkeley Trust, 12 October 2004, lot 1. For further references please refer to this latter catalogue note.
The emphatic stretching of the Kufic script in this manuscript is amply demonstrated on this folio, with the three joined consonants of the word Ahatat in the thirteenth line of the verso stretching for 18.3cm, and the word katabat in the six of the same page stretching for 16.7cm.