Abu al-Majd Jamal al-Din Yaqut bin 'Abdullah is thought to have been born in the first or second decade of the 13th century, probably in the then Byzantine city of Amasya in Anatolia. He was probably a convert to Islam, and sometimes signed his work 'Yaqut bin 'Abdullah' [literally son of God's servant]. His name Yaqut, which translates 'ruby' was common for slaves and he is thought to have been bought to Baghdad as a young boy where he became eunuch and slave to the last of the Abbasid caliphs, al-Musta'sim billah (r.1242-58), therein earning his epithet al-Musta'simi. Like his predecessor Ibn Muqla, he became the official secretary and chancery scribe, katib al-diwan, and was in Baghdad during the siege and sack of the city by the Mongols in 1258. He survived those momentous events and flourished under Mongol patronage.
Yaqut studied calligraphy in Baghdad with one of the masters of the day, Safi al-Din 'Abd al-Mu'min al-Urmawi (d.1294), who worked first for Al-Musta'sim and then for his conqueror, Hülegü and Ata-Malik Juwayni - the Persian historian and governor of the city. He became the librarian (under the direction of the historian Ibn al-Fuwati, d.1318) of the Mustansiriyyah madrasa in Baghdad - a richly endowed foundation which was established by the Abbasid caliph in the early 13th century. He was also protégé to Juwayni - and taught calligraphy to his sons and brother, Shams al-Din, the head of the chancery (sahib diwan). He died in Baghdad around AH 697/1298 AD and was buried near the famous jurist Ahmad bin Hanabal.
In his discussion of the present manuscript (report available upon request), David James likens the script of this manuscript to those in the Topkapi (EH76), the Astan-i Quds, and the Bibliothèque Nationale. All three of these manuscripts have sura headings copied in varieties of thuluth that relate to the calligraphy of our manuscript. Aside from the script, another similar feature is the way on folio 1v. and 2r. (for example), Yaqut omitted words in his copying and then added them in - in this case on the diagonal - when checking the text is something found on a number of other manuscripts by him (see for example the Tehran manuscript - illustrated in Sheila Blair, Islamic Calligraphy, Edinburgh, 2007, fig.7.1, p.244). Blair writes that later calligraphers avoided this by piling up the last letters above the word in order to maintain justified margins.
Yaqut is famed for being the teacher of six pupils who went on to become well-known calligraphers in their own right. The identity of these six, or the sitta, as they are known, is debated but it is widely agreed that they included Arghun al-Kamili, 'Abdullah al-Sayrafi, Mubarak Shah bin Qutb and Ahmad al-Suhrawardi. Known to be a strict tutor who demanded constant practice, Yaqut is said to have kept himself in practice by copying two sections of the Qur'an every day. During the sacking of Baghdad, he is said to have secluded himself in a minaret whilst doing so. A miniature from the treatise on calligraphers by Qadi Ahmad depicts this curious activity (illustrated in Y.H.Safadi, Islamic Calligraphy, London, 1978, p.18).
This muraqqa is a mufradat, or a manuscript listing the letters of the Arabic alphabet, written singly or in combination and produced for the purpose of teaching the principles of good calligraphy. It is one of only two known mufradat bearing Yaqut’s signature. The other, which is mentioned by David James in his report on the present manuscript, is described as being a small undecorated example in a private collection. It is tempting to imagine Yaqut using one of these mufradats to teach the principles of good calligraphy to his students - six men who went on to become master calligraphers themselves.
For further discussion on Yaqut al-Musta’simi, see lot 11.