• Art of the Islamic and Indian  auction at Christies

    Sale 7751

    Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds

    6 October 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 10



    Price Realised  


    Arabic manuscript on buff paper, 357ff. plus 1 fly-leaf, each folio with 12ll. of bold muhaqqaq, gold and polychrome roundel verse markers, sura headings in black outlined gold thuluth or in red or white on gold panels issuing medallions into the margins, further circular or drop-shaped marginal medallions in gold and polychrome, juz' marked in large medallions in gold kufic in the margins, opening bifolio with carpet page illumination centred around two central white strapwork medallions surrounded by scrolls and further dense gold strapwork with blue and white scrolling vine border and panels of kufic on blue ground with gold scrolls, the next bifolio with large panels of gold and blue illumination surrounding sura al-fatiha, two of the illuminated panels with borders of tiny white kufic on blue ground and all issuing bold marginal medallions, the text of the next bifolio outlined with gold strapwork border issuing further marginal medallions, sura al-tawheed within gold floral panel, colophon dated, signed and stating that it was written in the scribe's town, outlined with band of reciprocal palmettes on red ground, trimmed, some staining and marginal repair, later translation written between the lines in small naskh, in brown morocco with paper doublures
    Folio 13 7/8 x 11 1/8in. (35.2 x 28cm.)

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    Completed within the lifetime of the master Yaqut al-Musta'simi (d. circa 1297-99), this manuscript fills an important gap in early Qur'an scholarship. It has a very full colophon, giving details not only of the scribe and date, but also of the patron and place of manufacture. In terms of attribution it marks Amol as a centre for magnificent manuscript production, hitherto unknown. The Qur'an's date, 1288 AD, bears yet more significance. The disruption caused by the Mongol invasion and the fact that the Ilkhanid Empire which the Mongols established was ruled by non-Muslims until the conversion of Ghazan Khan in 1296 AH, means that very few Qur'anic manuscripts survive from the two decades prior to AH 700/1300 AD. This Qur'an therefore adds important resolution to the picture that we have of manuscripts of the late 13th century (David James, Qur'ans and Bindings, London, 1980, p. 58).

    Sheikh Abu al-'Abbas Qassab, for whose khanqah this is written, is recorded as a great Sufi of the second half of the 10th century. His khanqah was visited by other Sufis including Abu al-Hassan Kharaqani (b. 963 AD in Khorassan), about whom Farid al-Din 'Attar devoted much of his Tadhkiratul-Awliya (Biography of the Saints, see lot 64). The khanqah no longer exists.

    The earliest dated Qur'an in muhaqqaq was written in Iran in 1160 (now in Cairo in the National Library, MS. 144, see Martin Lings and Yasin Hamid Safadi, The Qur'an, London, 1976, no. 60, p. 49). As one of the 'Six Pens' (or rounded scripts) used to copy the Qur'an, muhaqqaq (which translates as 'meticulously produced') is a style that came to dominate between the 11th and 14th centuries as copyists strove to transform their regular hands into graceful and imposing scripts suitable for large codices such as this. Whilst signed and dated manuscripts show that many calligraphers including the famous Yaqut were at work in Baghdad in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, little is known of the work further east. This Qur'an fills that void demonstrating a capability there for extremely elegant and fully formed calligraphy. The script here is the work of a confident, well-practiced hand that shows the strength of the muhaqqaq that continued flourish to in Ilkhanid centres, such as Mosul, in the 20 years that followed the production of the manuscript (see for example two Qur'ans in the Khalili Collection - James, op. cit., 1992, cat. 21 and 22, pp. 102-107). Despite his obvious mastery of the script, the scribe of the present Qur'an is previously unrecorded.

    The elegant muhaqqaq is complemented by the strong and colourful marginal illumination, based on simple geometric forms and well-articulated arabesques. Geometric patterns and vegetal motifs remained the basic elements of Qur'anic illumination. David James writes that although Ilkhanid manuscripts survive from many different locations in Iran and Iraq, these often have little in common. The famous Hamadan Qur'an of AH 713/1313 AD commissioned for Sultan Üljeytü, for instance, and those commissioned by the same ruler further West share few similarities (James, op. cit., 1980, p. 58).

    The scribe of this manuscript, Muhammad bin Ibrahim Mahmud al-Haddadi al-Tabari, signs using the nisba al-Amoli. He adds that he has copied the Qur'an in the city of Amol. This is unusual. For a travelling scribe there is logic in adding your place of origin to your signature. If writing in your hometown however, this need becomes redundant. His use of the nisba may suggest that our scribe had become used to using it as a result of his having travelled extensively. This is compounded by the fact that in the illumination, one sees influences from as far afield as Mosul or Fars, as discussed at more length below.

    The marginal vases-shaped and roundel markers (which appear every 5th and 10th verse) are similar to those found and similarly used on a Qur'an in the Khalili Collection. Although that bears a date of 1270-71 and has been attributed to North India or Eastern Iran (partially on the basis of the calligraphy which is very different to this Qur'an), James describes the illumination as an 'archaic eastern Iranian style' reminiscent of the work of the 12th century (David James, The Master Scribes, London, 1992, cat. 18, pp. 82-85). Another copied by Yaqut in 1286 in Baghdad also bears similarity in the marginal markers (Y.H.Safadi, Islamic Calligraphy, London, 1978, no. 66, p. 73).

    Other slightly 'archaic' features are incorporated into the decorative repertoire. The Mosul jug in the present sale (lot 30), for example, shares a number of similar elements. Dated exactly 50 years earlier than the Qur'an, the jug has strong knotted bands of arabesque, similar to those used in the illumination of this Qur'an. Furthermore, the two bands of elegant benedictory knotted kufic on the jug, closely parallel the four panels on blue ground which decorate the opening bifolio. The use of foliate scrolling vine as a border is a feature used in the carpet pages of this Qur'an which is also easily paralleled in metalwork of similar period. A Fars dish (dated late 13th/early 14th century) in the Keir Collection, for instance, has a band of very similar scrolls issuing fleshy leaves which form a border around the central boss (Géza Fehérvári, Islamic Metalwork, London, 1976, pl.48b). The band of kufic surrounding the panels of the second bifolio is found in metalwork of 12th/13th century Khorassan, demonstrating another influence. The use of outdated illumination, if we call it such, can perhaps be explained by the fact that our Qur'an was copied in Amol, not in the late 13th century known as a major centre of Iranian culture.

    These features are however fused with decorative elements that show the illuminator experimenting with new styles that quickly became popular in the decorative repertoire of the Ilkhanids and which in some cases continued even beyond this. The dominant gold and blue illumination of the carpet pages, for instance, became the standard colour scheme used throughout the Ilkhanid and into the Timurid period. The illumination of earlier Qur'ans often used more reds and greens, which this does not.

    The use of red, green, blue and gold in the border of reciprocal palmettes that surrounds the colophon is usually thought of as a later, 14th century feature. Although the use of palmettes as a border - either complex, stylised or naturalistic - was a staple of Qur'anic illumination from much earlier (and the motif one that derives from Pre-Islamic art), they were usually executed exclusively in gold (David James, The Master Scribes, London, 1992, p. 18).

    Other features of the illumination appear slightly later in architectural decoration. The interlaced kufic Muhammad roundels at the bottom of second illuminated bifolio echo those found in the Tomb of Üljaytü at Sultaniyya, often considered one of the most perfect examples of Iranian architecture and the finest funeral edifices of Islam (1307-13, see Sheila S. Blair, 'The Epigraphic Program of the Tomb of Üljaytü at Sultaniyya', Islamic Art II, Genova and New York, 1987, figs. 14 and 17, pp. 87-88).

    This Qur'an is one where the illuminator plays with styles which are becoming increasingly fashionable. He does this whilst depending on some places on impressive but more classic features with which he was no doubt more acquainted. Although the Ilkhanid period was one in which there was a strong patronage of the arts, Ilkhanid Qur'ans are considerably rarer than Mamluk ones, partly because the style was more quickly superseded and partly owing to the destructiveness of the mid-14th century Timurid invasion which Egypt was spared (Martin Lings and Yasin Hamid Safadi, The Qur'an, London, 1976, p. 68). The present Qur'an provides a rare and important link between the style of the early 13th century and the monumental Qur'ans of the major Ilkhanid centres of Baghdad and Mosul in the early 14th century. The size, format and splendour of those manuscripts are often considered a new departure in manuscript production in that nothing like them was known to have been produced before this time (David James, Qur'ans of the Mamluks, London, 1988, p. 76). The present manuscript presents us with evidence very much to the contrary.

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