One inscribed medallion in the headpiece indicates that this scroll was written for a certain Alp Pahlavan.
This long scroll would have been carried tightly rolled and close to the body of its owner, probably in a small ornamented case. The presence of chosen Qur'anic suras and verses gives the talisman its magical power. Each chapter of this scroll groups under a specific title verses intending to protect the owner against various misfortunes; it would have been used to avoid terror (faraq), famine (awja'), deception (kid), the evil eye ('ayn), magic (sihr), and fear (khawf). The magical properties of these talismans were much diversified and their use was widely spread in the medieval Islamic world. As paper was relatively inexpensive, scrolls were amongst the most popular talismans.
The very long and intricate headpiece decorating this scroll, a third of the scroll's total length, is the most impressive feature of this manuscript. The inventiveness of the design is unique, playing with various geometric compositions based on the six-pointed star, the double-sided interleaved suras line in kufic script along the central cartouche, and the bold foliated kufic inscription at the extremity.
Beside this remarkable headpiece, the very early date of 1140 and the fact that the scroll has survived complete (excepted for its very top) confer on it an undeniable importance. Although 11th century Fatimid stamped amulets have been found in Egypt, it has not been possible to compare this scroll with a similar contemporary or earlier example as there are probably a very small number of surviving examples (Trésors fatimides du Caire, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 1998, cat.98-9). Later Mamluk Egypt however produced scrolls which follow the same organization of the headpiece: the oblong inscribed medallion is also bordered with medallions with six-pointed stars. Two richly illuminated scrolls, a complete Qur'an of the first half of the 14th century in the David Collection and a fragmentary talismanic scroll with Qur'anic verses dated circa 1360, show how much these scrolls were appreciated (Kjeld von Folsach, Art from the World of Islam in the David Collection, Copenhagen, 2001, cat.9 and Islamic calligraphy, calligraphies islamiques, exhibition catalogue, Genève, 1988, cat.22).
In her discussion of hexagons and hexagonal stars, Eva Baer indicates that this motif, sometimes called Seal of Solomon, appears on 11th century perforated mosque lamps and becomes amongst the most popular design in metalwork from the early 12th century onward and is transferred from one material to another. The geometric medallions of a 12th to early 13th century penbox and a 12th century bucket in the LA Mayer Memorial Museum, the first attributed to Afghanistan and the second to Khorassan, closely relate to the strapwork visible on our scroll which support an Eastern Iran or Afghanistan attribution (Eva Baer, Metalwork in Medieval Islamic Art, New York, 1983, fig.107-9, pp.126-32).
An obvious comparable for the strapwork of the headpiece comes to mind in the slightly earlier slip-painted pottery vessels commonly attributed to Samanid Central Asia or Eastern Iran. The example offered in this sale (please see lot 10) gives a very close comparable to the decoration of our scroll. A bowl with abstract designs in the Kuwait National Museum displays similar palmettes to those found in the interstices between each of our medallions (Oliver Watson, Ceramics from Islamic Lands, London, 2004, p.220). The fact that this group of ceramics is usually dated 10th century is worthy of note. It is possible that our scroll is realized in a somewhat archaic style and therefore later than the period where the style flourished. However, the firm date of 1140 inscribed on this scroll forces us to reconsider the date of that particular group of so-called Samanid ware.
A rare Afghan hexagonal wooden table in the David Collection is painted and incised with similar palmettes and strapwork as that of our scroll (Kjeld von Folsach, op.cit., cat.427). It is dated 11th to 12th century and supports the attribution of the scroll to the Eastern Iranian world. The inscriptions in kufic script found on the scroll can also be paralleled with examples on textile or manuscripts. The 11th to 12th century silk robe sold in these Rooms, 31 March 2009 (lot 94), has a calligraphic band with repeated interlocking letters between which grow sprays of fleshy tapering palmettes that closely relate to our example. A unusual Qur'an leaf in the Metropolitan Museum is inscribed with 6 lines of bold kufic with remarkably interlaced upstrokes, a number of them issuing palmettes with reserved designs similar to those of the scroll. Originating in Afghanistan, probably from Ghazna, this leaf was attributed to the middle of the 11th century (The Arts of Islam, Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Berlin, 1981, cat.16)
In many aspects, this scroll is an extraordinary example of mediaeval manuscript. Being a dated, heavily illuminated and comparable to numerous examples in other media, it is an essential piece to be included in the studies of 12th century works of art and manuscripts.