QUR’AN
QUR’AN
QUR’AN
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QUR’AN
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QUR’AN

SIGNED TAJ BIN SHAMS BIN TAJ AL-SHIRAZI, SULTANATE INDIA, DATED 27 RAJAB AH 838/26 FEBRUARY 1435 AD

Details
QUR’AN
SIGNED TAJ BIN SHAMS BIN TAJ AL-SHIRAZI, SULTANATE INDIA, DATED 27 RAJAB AH 838/26 FEBRUARY 1435 AD
Arabic manuscript on paper, 506ff. plus five flyleaves, 6ll. of black naskh divided and flanked by 3ll. of larger alternating black and gold thuluth, within gold, blue and black rules, gold and polychrome rosette verse markers, sura headings in gold and polychrome illuminated floral panels, catchwords, gold and blue marginal medallions, the opening bifolio with a dense gold and polychrome illuminated double carpet page, the following bifolio illuminated in gold and polychrome surrounding 3ll. of gold thuluth in clouds reserved against a floral ground, colophon signed and dated, followed by a gold and polychrome illuminated carpet page, minor repairs, in brown morocco, red doublures
Text panel 8 1/8 x 5 7/8in. (20.5 x 14.9cm.); folio 11 3/8 x 8 3/8in. (28.8 x 21.3cm.)
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Lot Essay

Surviving manuscripts from pre-Mughal Sultanate India are extremely rare, particularly those that are dated. This remarkably illuminated Qur’an presents an important addition to a limited body of material. While the precise location of the production of this Qur’an is unknown, it shares close similarities with the earlier Gwalior Qur’an produced in the Gwalior fortress south of Delhi, and a further North Indian Qur’an in the Walters Art Museum (inv.no.563.5). The Walters Art Museum Qur'an, although undated, has been attributed to the 15th century on account of a later seal of Sultan Bayezid (r.1481-1512).

In her inventory of known Sultanate manuscripts, Éloïse Brac de La Perrière identifies only six dated Qur’ans corresponding with the Sultanate period (Lart du livre dans lInde des sultanats, Paris, 2008, pp.297–308). The best of these, and the earliest in date, is the Gwalior Qur’an, housed in the Aga Khan Museum (inv.no AKM281), dated 1399 AD during the Tughluq dynasty (1320–1413).
The Gwalior Qur’an was completed at a critical moment in the history of Sultanate India. Only one year prior, Timur had swept through Delhi, ending nearly two hundred years of dominance by the Sultanate of Delhi (Éloïse Brac de La Perrière, Frantz Chaigne and Mathilde Cruvelier, ‘The Qur’an of Gwalior, Kaleidoscope of the Arts of the Book’ in Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum, Istanbul, 2010, p.115). The destabilisation of the Tughluqs at that time eventually led to the end of their rule in 1414, soon to be taken over by the Sayyid dynasty whose relatively short rule lasted from 1414-51. This was first under Khizr Khan, who was appointed by Timur and acting under his authority, followed by his son Mubarak Shah (r.1421–34), whose nephew Muhammad Shah came into power from 1434, during whose reign the present manuscript was written.

Unlike the Gwalior Qur’an which is written primarily in Bihari, our manuscript employs an alternation of naskh and a particularly energetic thuluth. In regards to a later Sultanate Qur’an dated 1488 AD, at the end of the Lodi dynasty, in the British Library (Add.18163), JP Losty designates the calligraphy as a sort of ‘Indian thuluth’ – a dynamic variation of the script which is much less static than its conventional form (JP Losty, The Art of the Book in India, London, 1982, pp.40 and 57, no.21). The vigorous thuluth practised here could certainly fit into this category.

The illumination of this Qur’an, however, shares a number of similarities with the Gwalior Qur’an, both in terms of richness and originality in its mix of Mamluk and earlier Persian decorative elements. The “extraordinary garden” of the Gwalior Qur’an (Brac de La Perrière, et. al. op. cit., p.119) is reflected in the frontispiece of our Qur’an, written on a ground of stylised lotus blossoms. The form of these flowers and the slightly splayed, pointed leaves is remarkably close to flowers found on illuminated bifolios from the Gwalior Qur’an (Brac de La Perrière, et. al. op. cit., p.121, figs.13-15b). Much like that example, our artist has similarly played with scale and design of the blossoms. Similar lotus blossoms are found on Mamluk Qur’ans (David James, Qurans of the Mamluks, London, 1988, p.207, cat.31), but also in manuscripts of late 14th century Shiraz (Calilah Jackson, ‘An Illuminated Manuscript from Late Fourteenth-Century Shiraz in the Bodleian Library’, A Journal of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, 5:2, 2020, pp.254-283). In much the same way, the geometric interlace of the final folio aligns with the Mamluk and Ilkhanid traditions of the 14th century.

The playfulness of the illumination is not confined to the frontispiece but extends into the sura headings which present a multitude of combinations of blue, black and pink grounds with spiralling arabesques, palmettes and flowers. A palette of gold and blue is evident, but like the Gwalior Qur’an, it is heavily enriched with subsidiary colours, especially black (JP Losty, op. cit., p.55).

The aptly designated “ornamental puzzle” of the Gwalior Qur’an and its successors remains difficult to unravel (Brac de La Perrière, et. al. op. cit., p.122), yet the body of surviving Sultanate Qur’ans certainly demonstrates the varied influences under which Indian artists at the time were working. This important addition, nonetheless, exemplifies an artistic identity within an early period of Sultanate India characterised by its inventiveness of design.

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