Lot 1
  • 1

Monumental Qur'an Leaf in Kufic Script on Vellum, North Africa or Near East, 8th Century

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • 55 by 70cm.
text: surat al-mu'minun (xxiii) vv: 68-75

12 lines per page written in well-formed early kufic script, in brown ink on vellum, single verse divisions marked with 6 diagonal strokes, tenth verses marked with a square in red, green, blue and manganese bearing the letter 'ain'

Catalogue Note

This magnificent leaf is a rare example of kufic manuscript production from the early period of Islam. 

The earliest Qur'an fragments which have filtered down through the ages are few and far between. Their scarcity makes them fascinating objects of historical documentation; bringing new evidence to the scanty information available on the development of the Arabic script, and Islamic manuscript production in general. The eighth and early ninth centuries saw a stylistic standardisation - with the introduction of vocalisation and diacritics, the calligraphic focus on the horizontal as opposed to the vertical, the change of the page format from vertical to horizontal, the regulation of the number of lines and, eventually, the enrichment of the palette. Examples of these standardised kufic manuscripts from the ninth and tenth century can be seen in lots 5-7, 11-15 and 17.

A stylistic comparison of this particular folio with leaves dated to the later Abbasid period reveals immediately a lack of vocalisation and diacritics, indicating a production date earlier than the ninth or tenth centuries. Furthermore the verse markers are primitive in format, a series of brown dashes, or a coloured square at the tenth verse; no illuminated rosettes here despite the inordinate expense of producing such huge sheets of vellum - again evidence of an early date. These features combined with careful script and a horizontal format suggest a production date during this time of stylistic synthesis, with a likely dating to the eighth century. Confirmation comes in the form of carbon dating shows a probability of 68% that the leaf dates to between 640 and 705 A.D., and a 95% probability of a date between 595 and 855 A.D.

Approximately one third of the Qur'an from which this folio originates, the 'Uthman Qur'an is housed in Tashkent, in Uzbekistan. This is not the only instance of a monumental kufic Qur'an of this date ending up in central Asia (see Déroche 1999), but the Qur'an in question is the largest that has yet come to scholarly attention. Déroche remarks that 'The itinerary followed by these folios remains somewhat obscure', but it seems likely that this Qur'an was carried along the Silk Road, via Merv, Bukhara and Samarqand. Tashkent lies on the road to Kashgar, one of the trade routes' principal nodes. Late in the nineteenth century the manuscript was in St. Petersburg, where it formed the object of a study by A. F. Shebunin; a facsimile was published in 1905 by Uspenskij and Pisarev. It would appear that during this period in St. Petersburg a number of pages were separated from the manuscript, amongst them this example. Later, a palaeographical study of the remaining section of the manuscript was made by Salahuddin al-Munajjid in 1971.

This manuscript was clearly an exceptional work, and this leaf is necessarily a document of the greatest importance for the study of the early history of Islamic texts, their construction and their dissemination. 

A further leaf from this manuscript can be found in the collection of the Aga Khan, see the exhibition catalogue Chefs-d'oeuvre Islamiques de l'Aga Khan Museum, Louvre 2007, cat.33, p.106.