Lot 9
  • 9

An illuminated Qur'an quarter-section (ruba') on vellum, Andalusia or North Africa, circa 1300 AD

70,000 - 90,000 GBP
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  • Brown ink and gold on vellum
text: 3rd-quarter surah maryam (XIX) to end of surah al-saffat (XXXVII)
Arabic manuscript on vellum, 110 leaves plus 2 flyleaves, 13 lines to the page, written in neat Maghribi script in dark brown ink, opening double page illuminated frontispiece composed of 2 panels filled with polychrome interlocking geometric motifs, strapwork and scalloped borders, f.2b with illuminated surah heading in gold Kufic script, 16 further corresponding surah headings, verses separated by 3-dot triangular clusters in gold, numerous marginal illuminations of varying designs, final folio with illuminated endpiece, later brown morocco binding, with flap


In reasonably good overall condition, one replacement folio, pages generally clean and illumination bright, minor losses to opening and closing leaves, large loss to closing flyleaf, binding worn and repaired, 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 manuscript represents an important and rare survival; a quarter-section of the Qur'an, executed with fine and neat Andalusian/Maghribi script of circa 1300. It is also remarkable for its profusion of fine illuminations, including a magnificent opening frontispiece comprising a weave of interlocking geometric designs bordered by gold strapwork and unusual scalloped elements.

Similarities can be made between the present quarter-section and a number of other manuscripts in museum collections around the globe. A close stylistic parallel can be drawn with a complete Qur'an now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, displayed in the exhibition Ink and Gold, Islamic Calligraphy, at the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin, in 2006 and published in the accompanying catalogue as no.21 (pp.72-83). Though slightly larger, it shares with the present manuscript its square format, Kufic surah headings in gold and various aspects of the illumination, particularly the marginal medallions filled with a rigorous interlace of split-palmettes. An interesting comparison to this Qur'an quarter-section is lot 92 of the present sale, the gilt-copper Nasrid pyxis, which dates from the same period. The design to the lid is almost identical to the central element of the double-page illumination in the manuscript, attesting to the breadth of decorative styles across different media.

Other manuscripts which bear similarities to the present manuscript include part two of a four-part Qur'an from Spain or North Africa, circa 1250-1350 in the Nasser D. Khalili Collection (see D. James, The Master Scribes, London 1992, pp.216-217, no.54); a Qur'an dated 703 AH/1304 AD in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (no. Arabe 385, see Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain, New York, 1992, p.316, no.85); three Qur'ans sold in these rooms 13 October 2004, lot 5; 23 April 1997, lot 48 and 26 April 1995, lot 20.

It is difficult to ascertain the geographical origin of manuscripts such as the present example on the basis of the script alone. Scribes were often expatriate during this period, so that a scribe working in Andalusian style who was a native of Valencia, for example, could have been resident in Morocco. The salient features of Andalusian script have been explained in David James op.cit., pp.86-88, and the script of the present quarter-section conforms to them: the script is neat, angular and relatively small for the size of the folios; the shape of the letters sad, dad, ta, za and kaf are elongated; furthermore the terminal qaf, fa and nun have their diacritical dots.

Whilst the romantic notions ascribed to Andalusia have resulted in the attribution of many manuscripts' origin there, Marcus Fraser has argued that Merinid Fez was equally as likely a contender, due to its great wealth and sophistication during this period (see Fraser & Kwiatkowski 2006, p.80). The Merinid rulers' extensive artistic patronage led to a flourishing of crafts and refined architecture, and Fez became a hub of science and humanties at a time when Nasrid Granada was essentially a kingdom in decline.