A fine illuminated Qur'an made for the chief justice of Jerusalem and Nablus, copied by Abu al-Fadl Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab al-Shafi al-Sunbati al-Araj, Egypt, Mamluk, dated 920 AH/1514 AD
Arabic manuscript on paper, 288 pages plus 2 fly-leaves, 15 lines to the page, written in naskh script in black ink, verses separated by gold roundels pointed in blue and red, surah headings in larger gold thuluth script outlined in black, opening double page illuminated frontispiece in blue and gold with text written in gold, closing page finispiece illuminated in blue and gold, morocco binding with tooled geometric decoration of interlocking polygons, with flap
19.2 by 15cm.
In overall fair condition, the edges of the folios have been slightly trimmed, some folios in the beginning and at the end of the manuscript with areas of restoration to the paper, small losses and minor tears, some staining and creasing, minor losses to pigments but gold and colours are strong, the text is clear, minor wear to binding, as viewed.
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NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
AN EXCEPTIONAL QUR'AN MADE FOR THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF JERUSALEM AND NABLUS
This impressive and complete copy of the Qur’an is a fine example of high-quality manuscript production in the late Mamluk period in Egypt. It is dated 920 AH/1514 AD and signed by the well-known master calligrapher Abu al-Fadl Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab al-Shafi al-Sunbati al-Araj (d.1519). Through its patronage and ownership, this Qur’an bears ties to two of the holiest places of Islam, Jerusalem and Medina. This attests to both the cultural vibrance of the end of the Mamluk empire and continued importance granted to Qur’ans from this period.
Abu al-Fadl Muhammad al-Araj studied calligraphy under Yasin al-Jalali and subsequently became a royal scribe to the Mamluk Sultan Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri (r. 1501-16). He was also closely associated with Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Sunbati al-Kutibi, who was a scholar, calligrapher, and bookdealer. Among al-Araj’s known works are a copy of al-Kawakeb addariya fimath al-bariya by al-Busiri which was commissioned by Yousif ibn Barsabai al-Yusufi, the Sultan’s financial officer; a copy of a book on medicine by Qaysunzade dated 1506 (m.360, Library of Sultan Mehmed III, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul), and a copy of a volume on theological discussion by al-Aqfahsi (m.1621, Library of Sultan Mehmed III).
Al-Araj worked on the present manuscript on the order of Jalal al-Din Abu al-Waffa Mohammad ibn Junis al-Hanafi who served as the Chief Justice (Qadi al-Qudah) of Jerusalem (al-Quds) and Nablus for a short period after the year 1495. Representing the Hanafi school of Islamic law, he would have been one of four qadis. Since the reign of the Bahri Mamluk sultan, Baybars (1260-77 AD), all juridical districts of the Mamluk Empire had four chief justices, representing the four traditional schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Our Qur’an bears some hand-written notes and stamps at the beginning and at the end. These include the date 1243 AH/1827 AD and mention the name of a previous, important owner of the manuscript, Hajj Uthman Kanoo Isma'il. He was the mayor of Yanbu al-Bahr, a city north of Mecca, during the reign of Muhammad Ali Pasha (r.1805-48), the Ottoman governor of Egypt.
Compared to the fourteenth century, Mamluk Qur’ans from the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries were not monumental in size but the illumination remained vibrant. The opening double pages and the closing page of the present manuscript are luxuriously illuminated in blue and gold with silver thuluth script within the illuminated panels and the central panels comprising text written in gold naskh. The generous use of gold and silver in the illumination and text illustrates the wealth and prestige of the patron of this Qur’an. Bands of scrolling floral and foliate vines in the borders of the illumination have replaced the gilded strapwork borders seen in earlier Mamluk manuscripts. The surah headings and marginal text is written in gold and red while the main body of the text is in a typical Mamluk naskh style of calligraphy on thick paper. A Mamluk Qur’an section in the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, dated to the second half of the fifteenth century, displays the main text in naskh and surah headings in gold thuluth on plain ground, in a similar manner to the present manuscript (acc. no.QUR298; D. James, After Timur. Qur’ans of the 15th and 16th Centuries, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, Vol.III, London, 1992, cat. no.14, p.62). In the introduction to the section regarding ‘Egypt and Syria under the Circassian Mamluks’, David James notes, "…calligraphy of very high quality continued to be produced, and there was even innovation in the form of a distinctive type of flattened naskh, called naskh faddah, which appeared in the last 30 years of the Mamluk period.’ (ibid, p.46).
A royal Mamluk manuscript of wise sayings, dated to the early sixteenth century, and bearing a dedication to Sultan Qansuh al-Ghawri was sold in these rooms, 5 October 2010, lot 51. Further examples of of Mamluk Qur’ans from the fourteenth century were sold in these rooms, 7 October 2015, lots 222 and 225; 19 October 2016, lot 103; 27 October 2020, lot 407. A monumental late-fifteenth century Qur'an produced for Sultan Qaytbay (r.1468-96) was sold at Christie's London, 2 May 2019, lot 11.