Lot 1
  • 1

A half-line from the 'Baysunghur Qur'an', Herat or Samarqand, circa 1400 AD

8,000 - 12,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • ink gouache and gold on paper
text: five words from surah al-hururat (XLIX), verse 6
Arabic manuscript on polished cream paper, 1 line in bold muhaqqaq script, laid down on an album page


In reasonably good overall condition, some ink losses and associated re-inking, creasing, some stains and spots, some small tears to album page edges, as viewed.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This monumental half-line fragment originates from the most famous Qur'an ever produced, the so-called 'Baysunghur Qur'an' associated with the Timurid prince Baysunghur Ibn Shahrukh, grandson of Tamerlane the Great. 

According to David James "the main cause for its fame is its vast size, for the complete pages that survive measure about 177 by 101cm. The text of this Qur'an was copied in seven lines on one side of these enormous sheets, the other side being left blank. Assuming the entire text of the Qur'an was transcribed, approximately 800 bifolios would have been required to contain it". 

James adds that the association with Baysunghur dates back to the early nineteenth century when the noted collector of Oriental manuscripts, James Baillie Fraser, saw a section of this Qur'an in Quchan, in north-east Iran. Although Baysunghur was a competent calligrapher, there is no historical evidence that he undertook so arduous a task as copying a Qur'an of this size since it would have taken between six and eight months to complete the work on the assumption that he was able to find the time to copy ten pages a day. The undertaking would certainly not have gone unnoticed by his contemporaries and would have been recorded in the chronicles of the time. James concludes that the attribution was probably based on circumstantial evidence since at one stage the manuscript was kept in the mausoleum of his grandfather, Timur in Samarqand (James, 1992, pp.18-25). It remained there until the city was captured by Nadir Shah in the eighteenth century. The Shah's troops dismembered the manuscript and stole many of its leaves, which were later lost or badly damaged. 

However, in the exhibition catalogue, Timur and the Princely Vision, it was suggested that in fact the manuscript fitted more naturally under the patronage of Timur himself, and that the great marble stand commissioned by Ulug Beg after Timur's death in 1405 AD, and originally located in the main chamber of the Friday Mosque at Samarqand, was probably made specifically for this Qur'an. Soudavar continues this argument with convincing technical details of the surface area of paper needed for such a manuscript, its weight, the estimated thickness of its spine and so on, all of which support the theory of Timur's, not Baysunghur's, patronage (see A. Soudavar, Art of the Persian Courts, 1992, cat.20a-b, pp.59-62).

Other pages or fragments are in the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha; the Astan-i Quds Library, Mashhad; the Gulistan Library, the Reza-i Abbasi Museum, the Malik Library, the Museum of Ancient Iran, and the National Library of Iran, Tehran; the Metropolitan Museum, New York; The Art and History Trust Collection, Washington DC; the David Collection, Copenhagen; the Nasser D. Khalili Collection, London. A full page from the Qur'an was sold at Christie's London, 27 April 2004, lot 22, whilst  double lines were sold in these rooms 12 October 2000, lot 15 and 6 April 2011, lot 185. Single lines have been sold in these rooms 8 October 2008, lot 17 and at Christie's London 31 March 2009, lot 101.