Lot 11
  • 11

An illuminated Qur’an juz (XXX), attributable to the scribe ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Muktib al-Ashrafi, probably illuminated by Ibrahim al-Amidi, Egypt, Mamluk, circa 1370-75 AD

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • ink on paper - bound manuscript
  • 26 by 18.8cm.
Arabic manuscript on polished paper, 39 leaves plus 4 fly-leaves, 5 lines to the page written in fine rayhan script in black ink, verses marked by gold and blue roundels with the name of Allah, the margins with different shaped markers in gold and polychrome, 36 surah headings written in white Kufic against a cobalt blue ground decorated with gold scrolls within a blue and gold cartouche, f.1a with the left hand side of a lavishly illuminated bifolium, decorated with three lines of black rayhan within gold-lined clouds against a ground with etched palmettes, missing two leaves, in a restored Mamluk morocco binding, with flap


In overall good condition, missing the first and least leaf, the margins are clean, minor stains and rubbing, minor losses to the illumination, the binding restored, 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 lavishly-illuminated juz comes from an important Qur’an commissioned by Sultan Sha’ban (r.1363-76) or his mother and was endowed to the Ashrafiyyah foundation. illuminated by the great Ibrahim al-Amidi, it an example of the apex of Mamluk Qur’an production in Cairo in the second half of the fourteenth century. Other sections of this Qur’an are now in the British Library, Chester Beatty Library and Tareq Rajab Museum. Most of the Qur’ans from the fourteenth century are executed in single volumes, whilst a very small number of thirty-part Qur’ans survive from the period between 1330 and 1376 AD. Thanks to several waqf documents and the records of Ibn Battuta, we know that the thirty-part Qur’ans were used in Sufi rituals, during which each person would read a different juz during a hudur, or ritual session (James 1988, p.31-32). Being used regularly, this might have been the reason why ajza' are more damaged compared to the surviving single Qur’ans.

David James identifies two different groups of Qur’an produced during the reign of Sultan Shah’ban (r.1363-76 AD): the polygon group and the Qur’ans illuminated by Ibrahim al-Amidi (James 1988, p.178). All of these Qur’ans, although they might have not produced in the same workshop, were the product of the illuminated patronage of Sultan Sha’ban and his mother and are the zenith of a long tradition that can be traced back to the Jazira area and Damascus in the first half of the fourteenth century.

The polygon group takes its name from the very distinctive opening illumination, characterised by the use of muhaqqaq script, a blue and gold border, rectangular surah headings (usually in thuluth or occasionally in Kufic script) divided into interlocking compartments, and the extensive use of lotuses and chinoiserie decoration throughout.

The second group, to which this juz’ belongs, comprises Qur’ans ascribed and attributed to the illuminator Ibrahim al-Amidi, one of the greatest illuminators of the fourteenth century. James lists four Qur’ans illuminated by this great painter (James 1988, cat.31, 32, 34 and 35).

Only one of the Qur’ans listed by James (cat.32) bears the signature of al-Amidi and provides us with some information about the illuminator’s origin. This Qur’an, now in the National Library in Cairo (inv.no.10), was part of an endowment by Sultan Sha’ban to his madrasa in the Khatt Bab al-Wazir. The colophon is dated Muharram 778 (May 1376 AD) and it is signed Muhammad al-Muktib al-Ashrafi (the calligrapher) and Ibrahim al-Amidi (the illuminator). Thanks to the date and the endowment, we can assume that al-Amidi was already an accomplished illuminator at the Mamluk court by the beginning of the third quarter of the fourteenth century. The nisba 'al-Amidi' also helps us to gather further information about the origin of Ibrahim. Amid was a city in the Jazira region, near Diyarbakr. Ibrahim was originally from Amid and it is likely to have left in order to be trained in the Mesopotamian region, before reaching Egypt in the 1360s. Other manuscripts produced at the end of the thirteenth century, produced between Konya and Baghdad, share similar characteristics in their decoration, closely comparable to the work of al-Amidi (James 1988, p.204).

In light of the stylistic characteristics found in this manuscript, James attributes to al-Amidi three other Qur’ans, listed as cat. nos.31, 34 and 35 (James 1988), cat. nos.31 and 34 in two volumes and a single volume respectively. They are both undated and written in fine muhaqqaq script, and all shares various features characteristic of al-Amidi’s style, among which the interlocking and overlapping circles within the illumination, and the use of primary colours alongside black and white.

Cat.35 is catalogued as a thirty-part Qur’an, of which 5 ajza' have been identified thus far, making the present manuscript the sixth juz known. An inscription visible under ultra-violet on juz 9 (BL Or.848) provides us with the information that this Qur’an was commissioned by Sultan Sha’ban or his mother for the Ashrafiyyah foundation, and only later was bequeathed to the madrasa in Bab al-Id by Amir Jamal al-Din, Ustar of al-Nasir Faraj, in 810 AH/1407 AD (James 1988, p.212). Although there are some differences between the illuminated frontispieces of these ajza' (notably between juz 4 and juz 9), these slight differences can be possibly attributed to a different artist working under the supervision of al-Amidi (James 1988, p.213). 

It is undeniable that this fine section bears some key characteristics in common with the other known sections: a fine and elegant rayhan, rarely found in Mamluk Qur’ans; the distinctive cicada-shapes on an arabesque and cross-hatching background of f.1a, which are associated with the work of al-Amidi (see the left-hand opening page of juz 14, James 1988, p.213.); and lastly the distictive verse markers and marginal devices. The verse separators are composed of fine roundels illuminated with two different tones of gold and with the word Allah written within. The teardrop and circular marginal markers are decorated by peonies illuminated in two tones of blue, another distinctive features found in the other sections (for an illustration of the juz in the British Library see Baker 2007, p.67).

Other ajza' of this Qur’an are as follows:

Juz 4, Chester Beatty Library inv.no.1464.
Juz 8, Sotheby’s, London, 8 April 1975, lot 200.
Juz 9, British Library, London, Or.848.
Juz 12, Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, inv.no.1465.
Juz 14, Sotheby’s, London, 5 July 1982, lot 112.