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 probable 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 (see M. Fraser, and W. Kwiatkowski, Ink and Gold. Islamic Calligraphy, London-Berlin, 2006, no.46).
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 AD, (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 (J.M. Bloom, 'Al-Ma'mun's Blue Koran?', Revue des études 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 (op.cit., 2006, p.46). A recent very detailed and thorough study of the manuscript by Alain George attributes the manuscript to the early Abbasid period in the late eight or early ninth century (A. George, 'Calligraphy, Colour and Light in the Blue Qur'an', in Journal of Qur'anic Studies, Volume XI, Issue 1, 2009, pp.75-125).
If the exact origins of the manuscript remain elusive, it is universally agreed that it is a startlingly luxurious example of early 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 Aga Khan Museum Collection, Toronto, and the Nasser D. Khalili Collection, London. Several leaves have been sold in these rooms, most recently, 4 October 2011, lot 2; 5 October 2010, lot 7; 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.
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