The illumination and subdivision of the opening page follows the standard opening of Mamluk Qur’ans, with the first surah encircled above and below by a Kufic illumination within cartouches, the text against clouds and an etched red ground, the outer frames in gold and decorated with geometrical interlacing patterns. While the text is written in black, the diacritics are in red, another feature found in Mamluk Qur’ans (see for a comparable the Qur'an produced for Sultan Baybars between 1304 and 1306, now in British Library, London, Inv.No. Add 22406). The colour blue and red are largely used in the marginal commentaries which span diagonally in the borders (for a similar Qur'an see Sotheby’s London, 19 October 2016, lot 103).
Although the elements listed above point towards a Mamluk attribution, other aspects of this Qur’an are quite unusual and suggest the hypothesis that this manuscript was produced in a region which was exposed to other styles and traditions: Rasulid Yemen.
The first distinctive feature linking this manuscript to Yemen is the use of a distinctive verse marker. The verses are separated by triple inverted comma-like devices in blue. Some sections that appeared recently on the market and attributed to the Rasulid period, had the same distinctive verse markers (see Sotheby’s London, 25 October 2017 lot 20 and 21 and Christie’s London 27 April 2017, lot 28).
The second unusual feature of this Qur’an is the ruling which delineates the text. Most of the Qur’ans produced in the Mamluk period are not ruled (out of the thirty-eight listed in James 1988, only twelve have ruling. The ruling of the present text is a sequence of gold, black, red and blue, a combination of colour seen also in Bihari Qur’ans produced in India (see for example Sotheby’s London, 6 October 2010, lot 16; 8 October 2008, lot 21 and 1 April 2009, lot 13, where in each case the text is framed in gold, red and blue). This choice of colour for the frame of the text is definitely out of the ordinary.
Although the use of these colours is not unusual for Mamluk manuscripts, as we have previously discussed, the combination of ruling, surah headings in blue and marginal notes, somehow recalls the contemporary Bihari Qur’ans copied in India.
The last remarkable aspect of the manuscript's decoration is the use of purple and green buds framing the illumination of surah I and the beginning of surah II. While the central decoration of the frontispiece is quite common and seen in several Mamluk examples, the outer sequence of green and purple buds/leaves is quite unusual. This pattern is very similar to that which decorates the illumination of a Sultanate Qur’an published in Brac de la Perriere 2008 (pl.40), both a sequence of trilobed buds flanked on each side by rounded leaves alternating in colour.
As Sheila Blair notes, “Koran manuscripts in Bihari script had a wide currency and were exported from India to South Arabia” (Blair 2006, p.388-9) and the discovery of some leaves in Bihari in a mosque in Dawran, northern Yemen, is testament of the strong link between these two regions.
It is very likely that the scribe and illuminator of this Qur’an, whilst copying the text in the traditional Mamluk style, took some innovative elements from Qur’ans that reached the South Arabian shores from India, making this text an interesting example of the hybrid cultural scene of South Arabia in the fifteenth century.
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