Lot 10
  • 10

A rare selection of surahs from the Qur’an, copied by Ahmad ibn Masud ibn Ishaq ibn Mahmud al-Rumi, Persia, probably Herat, Timurid, dated 849 AH/1445-46 AD

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
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  • ink on paper - bound manuscript
  • 17.2 by 13cm.
text: surah al-fatihah (I), surah al-an’am (VI), surah al-kahf (XVIII), surah saba (XXXIV) and surah fatir (XXXV)
Arabic manuscript on polished paper, 66 leaves plus 2 fly-leaves, 7 lines to the page written in fine naskh in black ink, ruled in blue and gold, verses separated by polychrome and gold rosettes, one gold and polychrome opening bifolium with 3 lines of black naskh, text above and below in green Kufic within cartouches, all encircled by gold, red and green interlacing scrolls against a blue ground, 4 surah headings written in thuluth script in gold and black, Persian comments written in black nasta’liq within the lines, fifth (khamsa) and tenth (‘ashra) verse markers written on the margins in gold, fine cut-leather and gilt binding


In good condition, the margins with minor annotations, minor stains throughout and restoration to the paper, the opening bifolium with repainting and re-ink, the right side a replacement, the binding in very good condition, 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 volume contains the five surahs in the Qur'an which begin with the phrase al-hamdulillah (chapters I, V, XVIII, XXXIV and XXXV). It is a magnificent and rare specimen of the calligrapher Ahmed al-Rumi’s ability as a master of naskh at the Timurid royal court. As indicated by his nisba 'al-Rumi', Ahmad ibn Mas’ud was originally from Anatolia. An accomplished calligrapher and, according to Qadi Ahmad, a follower of Yaq'ut and master of the 'Six Pens', al-Rumi worked in Herat under the patronage of the Timurid prince Baysunghur (d.1433) and later his successors. Qadi Ahmed even went as far as to say that some examples of his calligraphy were more refined and delicate than those of Yaq'ut. A calligraphic exercise by Baysunghur and his companions copying a phrase written by al-Rumi in riqa’ is now in the Topkapi Palace Library (inv.no.H.2152 fol.31v, see Blair 2006, p.263, ill.7.9) and is testament to the importance of Ahmad ibn Mas’ud as a master calligrapher at the royal Timurid court, corroborating the hypothesis that he was the teacher of Baysunghur himself.

Al-Rumi’s mastery of naskh was evident from the very beginning of his works at the court of Baysunghur. The first naskh manuscript commissioned by the Timurid ruler is in fact signed by our calligrapher. The text is a copy of Tabaqat-i Nasiri by Juzjani, a history of of the Mu’izzi Mamluks of Delhi, and bears the date 813 AH/1411-12 AD ( Staatsbib. Inv.no.Peterman I 386, Bloom and Blair 2009, p.348). During the beginning of the fourteenth century, a distinctive style of naskh developed in Shiraz, which was used in the writing of both Qur’ans and non-religious manuscripts. The letters nun, sin and ya’ are written with long tails which usually embrace the following word. Although it is a characteristic that can already be found in manuscripts from the Injuid period, this style and fine balance finds its perfection in the Timurid period, before travelling to Anatolia and India. Other contemporaneous manuscripts, produced at the Royal Timurid court and written on a spectacularly colourful Chinese paper, show the same stylistic long tails which embrace the following word (see a Qur’an now in the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, Istanbul (inv.no.41, Farhad & Rettig 2016, pp.240-3) and a Qur’an section sold at Christie’s, 8 April 2008, lot 120).

The master Al-Rumi here combines three different calligraphic styles: a fine and balanced naskh for the main text, with elongated tails; an elegant thuluth for the surah headings, each written in gold and finely outlined in black; and lastly the musalsal method for the colophon, in which a the pen isn't lifted from the page, resulting in a seamless, 'chain' of calligraphy. As attested by the bismillah written with the musalsal method, within two panels of writings (Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, Istanbul, inv.no.MS.1443, f.1r and 2v, Bloom & Blair 2009, p.348), al-Rumi was also a master of this difficult technique.