Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 18. A large and important illuminated Qur’an, copied by Ahmad al-Rumi, probably Herat, dated 851 AH/1447 AD.

A large and important illuminated Qur’an, copied by Ahmad al-Rumi, probably Herat, dated 851 AH/1447 AD

Auction Closed

March 31, 12:40 PM GMT


300,000 - 500,000 GBP

Lot Details


Arabic manuscript on polished paper, 321 leaves plus 2 fly-leaves, 11 lines to the page, the first, sixth and eleventh written in large and bold muhaqqaq script in black, the remaining lines in neat naskh, surah headings in gold thuluth enclosed by cloud bands against a feintly hatched ground, surah al-Nur within an illuminated panel, the first 4 pages with the gold lines executed in large muhaqqaq, catchwords, margins ruled in red, blue and gold, blue and gold marginal illuminated devices in circular and tear-drop forms, ff.1b and 2a with a fully illuminated double page frontispiece in blue, black and gold, decorated with leafy gold floral scrolls, following double page with three lines to each page written in large gold muhaqqaq, colophon executed in large black tawqi script, Safavid period leather binding with gilt-stamped boards, flap, and doublures with cut-paper polychrome filigree work and scrolling chinoiserie cloud bands

32 by 24.8cm.

text panels: 21.5 by 16.5cm.



The present manuscript represents an outstanding calligraphic feat by one of the foremost practitioners in the history of the Islamic Arts of the Book, Ahmad al-Rumi. he is known as a master of the six pens, and was held in great esteem at the Timurid Court, working in Herat under the patronage of the prince Baysunghur (d.1433) and later his successors. A small number of works by the scribe are known, including only one other Qur'an, rendering the manuscript to hand both extremely important and rare.

As indicated by his nisba 'al-Rumi', Ahmad ibn Mas’ud was originally from Anatolia. Qadi Ahmed, the famous Safavid authority on calligraphy, went as far as to say that some examples of his calligraphy were more refined and delicate than those of Yaq'ut. He describes him as follows:

“Ahmad Rumi was a master of writing, unrivalled in his day, a wonder of the ages. He attained such a degree of refinement and excellence in the styles muhaqqaq, rayhan, naskh, riqa', and tauqi' that some specimens of his calligraphy are more refined and delicate than those of Yaqut. His self-assurance is expressed in the words he addressed to his son: "Exert yourself! If you cannot (write) like me, then write like that slave of no account (ghuldmak)," i.e., Yaqut”. The word ghuldmak refers to the fact that Yaqut had been a slave of the caliph Musata’sim (V. Minorsky, Calligraphers and Painters: A Treatise by Qadi Ahmad, Son of Mir-Munshi, Freer Gallery Occasional Papers, Vol.3, No.2, Washington D.C., 1959, p.62). The impressive manuscript to hand is testament to the high opinion in which Qadi Ahmed held Ahmad al-Rumi.

A calligraphic exercise written in riqa' by al-Rumi is incorporated into a page of copied phrases by Baysunghur and his companions, preserved in the Topkapi Palace Library (inv. no.H.2152 fol.31v, see Blair 2006, p.263, ill.7.9). It 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.

In his article (Baysungur Library 2001, p.34-36) Roxburgh highlighted that this calligraphic exercise in riqa' script merits the attention as an evidence for artistic genealogy. Further, it centers the principle of transmission, effected in this instance by an esteemed model followed by the successive calligraphers. The series of lines produces genealogy of relationship and variety of imitation. The riqa' exercise and the album containing specimens by Yaq'ut and his students are material statements about a principle of calligraphic transmission, a structure that placed the calligrapher in a history of a tradition by establishing his forebears. Each calligrapher is a link in the chain (silsila) from the past to the present.

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 Ahmad al-Rumi. 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. 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 nunsin 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.

A commection can be made between the oeuvre Ahmad al-Rumi and other contemporaneous manuscripts produced at the Royal Timurid court and written on a spectacularly colourful Chinese paper (some known to have been given as diplomatic gifts). These high-quality productions often share the same calligraphic style, including letter terminals with stylistic long tails which embrace the following word, such as we see in this Qur'an's calligraphy (see a Qur’an now in the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, Istanbul [TIEM 41], M. Farhad & S. Rettig, The Art of the Qur'an, Washington D.C., 2016, pp.240-3); a Qur'an sold at Christie's, 25 June 2020, lot 29, exhibiting similar gold surah headings in thuluth to the present work, and a Qur’an in the Detroit Institute of Art, executed in a rayhan script, (acc. no.30.323), published in T.W. Lentz and G.D. Lowry, Timur and the Princely Vision, Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1989, pp.78-79 (ill., p.332 described and dated c.1425-50).

The present Qur'an is a tour de force of calligraphy, where Ahmad al-Rumi employs four scripts - a strong and angular muhaqqaq interspersed with a fine and balanced naskh for the main text, an elegant thuluth for the surah headings, each written in gold and finely outlined in black, with the addition of tawqi on the final page. The colophon page is extraordinary as not only do we see the text in four scripts, but also the use of the musalsal method, in which a the pen isn't lifted from the page, resulting in a seamless, 'chain' of calligraphy (see the words sadaqa Allah al-azim in line four). 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. Indeed its occasional use can be spotted throughout the manuscript.

A manuscript of selected Qur'an surahs copied by Ahmad al-Rumi, dated just two years earlier than the Qur'an to hand, in 849 AH/1445-46 AD, was sold in these rooms, 25 April 2018, lot 10.