This folio was formerly in the collection of Doctor Jean-Michel Thierry de Crussol (1916-2011), a physician and well-known art historian who was an authority in the field of Byzantine and Armenian art. He produced a number of important works and from 1977 to 1989, was a lecturer in the subject at the National Institute of Oriental Languages ??and Cultures (Paris III, Sorbonne). He would later go on to become a lecturer in Christian arts of Transcaucasia in 1995.
This Qur'an leaf is a rare and important survival from the earliest period of Qur'an production. During the caliphate of Abu Bakr (633-34 AD), many Muslims who knew the Qur'an by heart were killed in the wars that followed the death of the Prophet. 'Umar feared that parts of the Qur'an would be lost and thus commissioned Zayd ibn Thabit, a former secretary of the Prophet, to collate the Qur'an. It was copied onto sheets and sent to 'Umar when he succeeded to the Caliphate and then to his daughter, Hafsa, one of the Prophet's widows.
The second impetus came during the Caliphate of 'Uthman (644-56 AD) when the decision was taken to produce a definitive version of the Qur'an in order to prevent further disputes amongst believers. Again, Zayd ibn Thabit was commissioned to supervise the task and the revised version was compared with Hafsa's copy. Several copies were made and sent to the main centres of Islam. It is not known whether the copies belonging to Hafsa survived. Even if they did not, they were not forgotten. The Kitab al-Masahif of Ibn Abi Dawud (d. 928 AD) discusses the various non-canonical readings of the Qur'an. It is accepted that the authorised version was produced around 650 AD.
The 10th century Baghdadi scholar, Ibn al-Nadim, in his bibliographic work, the Fihrist, gives an account of the early forms of the Arabic script. He writes that “for the alifs of the scripts of Makkah and al-Madinah, there is a turning of the hand to the right and lengthening of the strokes, one form having a slight slant” (Déroche, 1992, p.27). It is on the basis of this description that in the 19th century Michele Amari identified examples of the Meccan script, which was re-termed by Nabia Abbott about a century later with the name hijazi (Déroche, 1992, p.27). As well as the characteristic alifs that Ibn al-Nadim describes, other distinctive features include the use of a vertical rather than a horizontal format of folio which became the norm in kufic Qur'an pages from the early Abbasid period.
Ibn al-Nadim’s account would suggest that the script was used during the first and second centuries AH and enjoyed a prestige associated with the holiest period of Islamic history (Déroche, 1992, pp.27-28). Surviving folios from hijazi Qur’ans are housed in a number of international institutions, including a section in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Arabe 331) and another from the same codex in the University of Leiden Collection (Or.14.545). Both examples have 19ll. of text and the folios in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France include complete folios measuring 41.3 x 34.8cm. This codex has been recently reattributed to the earliest production of hijazi Qur’ans, the second half of the seventh century, following radiocarbon analyses on the Leiden folios.
The present folio is of a substantial size and displays 18ll. of text. However, when one considers the loss to the upper part of the folio in relation to the continuation of the text, it would most likely have had 19ll. and in its complete form been of a similar size to these examples. The script is also very similar to these folios. Particularly comparable features include the alif-lam which presents a similar curved terminal, as well as the qaf terminal that extends almost perpendicularly down into a short ‘hook’ that returns back on itself. A further, comparable feature are the abjad numerals that mark every tenth verse written within a fine outline.
This folio notably provides a rare example of the modest decoration of hijazi folios in the geometric interlaced sura marker. Although this is not found on the Leiden and Paris examples, Déroche notes that in the small body of hijazi folios known to us, stylistic inconsistencies are commonly found - in orthography, line spacing and style. Whether this is a result of several scribes working on the same codex, or whether it demonstrates a prioritization of faithfully reproducing the text rather than a concern with aesthetics is unclear (Déroche, 1992, p.27). Given the substantial size, comparable format and particularly close script of this folio with the examples housed in Leiden and Paris, this folio is almost certainly a further example from the same codex.
The number of hijazi Qur’an folios remaining today is small and this folio provides a valuable document of the transmission of the text it the earliest stages of the Arabic script. Even more so, it presents an important religious document associated with the earliest period of Islam, only decades after the Qur’an was committed to writing.
Further early hijazi folios sold at auction include a palimpsest sold in these Rooms, 8 April 2008, lot 20, and another sold at Sotheby's, London, 6 October 2010, lot 3.