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A SUBSTANTIAL GROUP OF LARGE KUFIC QUR’AN LEAVES
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE LATE DR MOHAMED SAID FARSIFrom early on Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi's life was exceptional. Born in the South West quarter of Mecca Al-Mukarama on 7 January 1935, Farsi left home in 1956 to study in Egypt, one of only 35 students from all over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who were sent abroad for further education that year. Having obtained his BA in Architecture and Town Planning from the University of Alexandria, Farsi returned to Saudi Arabia to work in the Bureau of Town Planning in the Western District for ten years. He became the first Mayor of Jeddah, and during that tenure, in 1982, he received an MA from the University of Alexandria for his thesis on the architecture and town planning of Mecca. On his resignation from public office in 1986, Dr. Farsi focused his energies on research. He received a PhD. in Architecture and Town Planning from the University of Alexandria and wrote a series of essays on art history and architecture that were collected in 1989 and published as The Story of Art in Jeddah. Dr. Farsi passed away peacefully in March 2019, and is survived by his family as well as by a legacy of patronage and philanthropy that will surely inspire generations to come. Dr. Farsi was one of the Middle East's great modern patrons of the visual arts. For a long time he was a driving force in the Egyptian art scene, offering support and guidance to many young emerging artists. Dr. Farsi was the only collector of Modern Egyptian Art to have systematically documented the works in his collection, commissioning a then all-inclusive book in 1997, published in 1998, by the critic and scholar Dr. Sobhy Sharouny entitled A Museum in a Book: The Farsi Art Collection "The Egyptian Works" Owned by Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi. At the same time as promoting modern Egyptian artists, he also established close relationships with some of the great names of international art, including Cesar, Moore and Vasarely, each of whom provided several works for his extensive programme of public works in Jeddah. When he took the reins as Mayor in 1972, Jeddah had grown from a small medieval town to a city of 300,000. Under his guidance it was to grow fivefold in the next decade into a major city of over 1.5 million. Dr. Farsi's approach was unique, not just to the region but worldwide. Farsi coupled one of the world's largest urban development programmes with beautification through installation of a large number of site-specific monumental sculptures. Around 500 sculptures were commissioned by Arab and international sculptors, which also included works by Miro, Calder, Lipchitz, Arp, Vasarely, Cesar, Hellman, La Fuente, Salah Abdulkarim, Aref El-Rayess and Moore. A book entitled Jeddah: City of Art, published in 1991 by his son Hani, celebrates these achievements. Over the years Dr. Farsi's profound affection for Egypt and most especially Alexandria, where he completed his studies, found expression in the formation of his astonishing collection. He himself commented that "Living intimately within Alexandria's enchanted atmosphere of the 1950s had the greatest effect in forming my artistic consciousness". This drove the formation of the modern Egyptian art collection, but at the same time he began to collect classical Islamic Art, again at first with a strong bias towards Egyptian items, but rapidly allowing his interests to spread over a much broader spectrum, including the spectacular Qur’ans that are in this sale. We are delighted to be able to offer this selection of some of the best masterpieces from the collection.
A SUBSTANTIAL GROUP OF LARGE KUFIC QUR’AN LEAVES

LATE UMAYYAD OR EARLY ABBASID, PROBABLY DAMASCUS OR JERUSALEM, MID-8TH CENTURY

Details
A SUBSTANTIAL GROUP OF LARGE KUFIC QUR’AN LEAVES
LATE UMAYYAD OR EARLY ABBASID, PROBABLY DAMASCUS OR JERUSALEM, MID-8TH CENTURY
Manuscript on vellum, 76ff. each with 16ll., extremely elegant black kufic, vowels in red and green dots, verse endings marked with groups of three lines, endings of larger section marked with illuminated panels of various forms, sura headings indicated by panels illuminated in brown and green, the title in red kufic, a marginal palmette at each side, opening verses within a similar multiple border, the opening page with large elaborate illuminated carpet page comprising two rows each of three interlaced roundels containing similar motifs (some damage, scuffing and minor restoration)
Folio 12½ x 15in. (32 x 38cm.)

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Louise Broadhurst
Louise Broadhurst

Lot Essay

The Qur’an, of which the present leaves form by far the largest surviving block, was one of the most impressive Qur’ans produced on vellum in the early Islamic period. It is conceived on a magnificent scale, not quite the largest, but still strikingly more impressive than almost all other examples. The leaves are large, but it is in the script that there is the most marked opulence in approach. While there are indeed 16 lines to each folio, the individual letters are frequently elongated such that on a few occasions a single word occupies a complete line. It is a very individual script, with various features not found elsewhere. The rounded nuns at the end of a word, the way the letters either side form a cup in which the raised fes rest, the trumpet-like lower strokes of the waws are all very idiosyncratic. The terminal yes running back under the word long beyond where the word started, meaning that the scribe had to think about the terminal before starting to write the word, also help serve to elongate the script. All indicates a project that was carefully considered, the scribe proceeding in an unhurried way, making sure that all was well-balanced. The script is so idiosyncratic and identifiable that, when he was dividing the various kufic scripts into different groups, François Déroche created a completely separate category, F, for the present manuscript, relating it only to two other manuscripts, one in the Topkapi Palace Library, the other an unpublished example in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Istanbul (Déroche, 1992, pp.120-122, no.66). The distinctive features are well clarified by Alain George (George, 2010, appendix, p.159.)

Few illuminated pages from this Qur’an have been published. However, with the present group of leaves, we are able to have a far clearer idea of how the Qur’an would have looked when first produced. It started with the carpet page that is included in this lot; we cannot preclude the possibility of further carpet pages or even pages with architectural designs preceding this (George, 2010, pp.53 and 54; Christie’s, 18 October 1994, lot 37). The opening of the text is on f.1v. as it stands now, but unlike in later Qur’ans there is no attempt to complete sura I, al-fatiha in one composition. It is enclosed within a broad frame of knotted strapwork. The text continued onto f.2 which again placed the text within a border of knotted strapwork, the illuminated band indicating the start of sura II, al-baqara running horizontally from side to side within the frame (Sotheby’s, 8 October, 2008, lot 1). The text continued onto f.3, both sides of which were similarly decorated with frames of knotted strapwork (Christie’s, 6 October 2011, lot 25). To date we do not know the whereabouts of f.4, to know whether the illuminated margins continued for another folio. The assumption would be, judging from the general tradition of Qur’an manuscripts, while allowing for the fact that this is earlier than almost all illuminated musahif, that there would have been at least one side that was illuminated, to face the preceding folio before moving to complete pages of text for the remainder of the volume.

Up until the appearance of this block, and with the exception of the heading for sura II, al-baqara, already noted, only three illuminated sura headings were known (Sura XX, Ta Ha – Sotheby’s, 29 April 1998, lot 2; sura XXII, al-Hajj – Christie’s 17 October 1996, lot 47; sura XLIII al-Zukhruf – Bonham’s, 1 May 2003, lot 1). The present block contains the headings for sura XI, Hud, sura XVI, al-Nahl, sura XXI, al-anbiya’, together with three other incomplete fragmentary headings, two on the same page due to the composite nature. All are of a similar form, an illuminated band running the width of the text block linking two marginal palmettes. The sura titles themselves are almost always inserted in red kufic, appearing almost as an afterthought – and the absence on one folio also indicates that they were not an essential part of the original composition. Those that have the sura heading panel at top or bottom of the page write the red kufic heading on the ‘outside’ of the illumination in each case.

Verse endings are indicated by groups of five diagonal lines. This is a very early feature, being found on the Tashkent Qur’an (see: Christie’s, 20 October 1992, lot 225 and 225A) and also on the Sana'a Qur’an with architectural opening (Amsterdam, 1999, pp.100-103, nos.36-41). In addition to these, there is a variety of illuminated motifs at the end of every fifth or tenth verses, including alif-like motifs, roundels, square panels, and linked roundels or square panels. The colours used throughout for the illumination are a green, a brown which may well originally have been closer to red, and a blue which has mostly disappeared, all within brown outlines.

When discussing the script, Déroche compares it to two inscriptions, one of which is dated 100/718-9, the other to 160/776-7. He also notes at the same time that the extended letters which are such a feature of this Qur’an 'seems to be present only in the material from Damascus' (Déroche, 1992, p.42). George develops the comparisons between architectural inscriptions and manuscripts, showing clear similarities between a Qur’an in the Bibliothèque Nationale and the mosaics in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (George, 2010, pls.50-51, pp.76-7). The pronounced large rounded 'ain that is such a feature of this script also appears on the mosaic inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (George, 2010, pl.2.41 and 42, p.65). The colours used, and particularly the use of entwined strapwork filled with small diaper pattern is also very close to that of a Qur’an given in waqf to the Dome of the Rock (Salameh, 2001, pp.47-55, no.5).

While individual leaves from this magnificent Qur’an have appeared in various sales, and exist in many collections, (see: the Al-Sabah Collection, the Brooklyn Museum, the David Collection, Copenhagen, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Tareq Rajab Museum, Kuwait and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), it is exceptional to find a block of this size, more than doubling the number of known sura headings, clearly defining how the Qur’an started, and with the same extraordinary unique controlled but exciting kufic script throughout.

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