The inscription at the top in gold decoupé reads:
hasb al-amr-e sarkar-e navvab-e ashraf-e vala yamin al-dawla ruhi fadahu bandeh-ye dargah muhammad husayn ta'mir nemud 1285
It was restored by the order of His Excellency, the Eminent Noble Nawwab Yamin al-Dawla, may my soul be sacrificed for him, by the servant of the court Muhammad Husayn 1285 (1868-9).
Yamin al-Dawla is most likely Ma'sud Mirza Zill al-Sultan, the fourth son of Nasr al-Din Shah. He was titled Yamin al-Dawla in 1277/1860-1 and Zill al-Sultan in 1286/1869-70.
This Qur'an was clearly greatly admired from the 19th century when it was rediscovered, and there are a number of reproductions. Analysis of the paper has made it easier to distinguish the original from the later copies. The original folios are written on a single sheet of laid paper with 4-5 laid lines per centimeter running along the vertical axis of the paper. The present folio conforms to this analysis.
All of the known folios have writing on one side only. This may be the result of the technical difficulties of producing such vast sheets of paper (James, see below).
This is a folio from one of the most celebrated and certainly the largest Qur'an produced in the Medieval period. It has traditionally been associated with Baysunqur, grandson of Timur, himself a noted calligrapher, but recent scholarship suggests that this Qur'an is probably slightly earlier in date and may have been produced under the patronage of Timur himself.
The remarkable thing about this Qur'an is the size of the folios. The present folio measures 176.5 by 106.7cm. The text is copied in a mere seven lines of superb muhaqqaq without any illumination. An analysis by David James of all the known folios of this manuscript in 1992 suggests that this Qur'an was originally unilluminated except for sura headings and for gold and blue lines framing the text. In the present example, traces of the original blue outlining are present, but all other illumination has been added, presumably in 1868-9 by Muhammad Husayn. James suggests that the verse markers which are to be seen on some of the fragments and folios were added at a later date. The lack of decoration in no way detracts from the superb monumentality of the script, clearly the hand of a master scribe.
Abolala Soudavar has made a convincing case for the authorship of this Qur'an to be one 'Omar Aqta, a scribe mentioned in Qadi Ahmad's treatise on calligraphers written in the late 16th century. According to Qadi Ahmad, 'Omar Aqta had tried to impress Timur by writing a Qur'an so small that it could fit under a signet ring. The great Khan was unimpressed by this production, so he wrote another copy:
'extremely large, each of its lines being a cubit (dhar) in length, and even longer. Having finished, decorated and bound (the mnanuscript), he tied it to a barrow and took it to the palace of the Lord of the Time. Hearing that, the sultan came out to meet him, accompanied by all the clergy, dignitaries, amirs and pillars of the state, and rewarded the calligrapher with great honors, marks of respect and endless favors.'
A connection with Timur is enhanced by the presence in the courtyard of the Bibi Khanum mosque of a massive marble Qur'an stand, whose dimensions are so close to that of the Qur'an that it seems likely that they belong together.
The Qur'an was first seen in modern times by the traveller James Baillie Fraser in Quchan during a tour of Khorasan in 1821-2. According to several sources, the pages had been taken to Quchan from Samarkand at the time of Nadir Shah's occupation of the city in the 18th century. Part of the Qur'an had been placed in an imamzadeh in Quchan by a local Kurdish ruler who had participated in the campaign against Samarkand. This imamzadeh was destroyed by an earthquake in 1895, but before this time Nasir al-Din Shah had visited it and removed some of the pages to be placed in the "State Museum", presumably a reference to the Gulistan Palace Library. In 1912 Prince Muhammad Hashim Afshar visited Quchan and retrieved the remaining pages from the ruins, bringing some to Mashhad, where five pages were already on display in the Astan-i Quds. Other folios and fragments are in Iranian and foreign collections, either brought from Samarkand at the time of its capture by Nadir Shah; taken from Quchan or brought back as souvenirs before Nadir Shah looted the city.
The last complete folio to appear at auction was at Sotheby's in 1988 (London, 10 October 1988, lot 168). Interestingly, this folio was the one which immediately precedes the present lot (Qur'an VII, vv.37 part to 38 part).
Other folios are in the Astan-i Quds Library in Mashhad, the Museum of Ancient Iran in Tehran and the Malik Library in Tehran. The Reza
'Abbasi Museum in Tehran has fragments, as does the National Library of Iran.
In foreign collections there are two folios in the Art and History
Trust collections, a fragment in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, a
folio in a private collection in Geneva, a fragment in the David
Collection, Copenhagen, and other fragments which have appeared at
Gray, B. ed.: The Arts of the Book in Central Asia, London, 1979, p.11
James, D.: After Timur, London, 1992, pp.18-25
Minorsky, V.: Calligraphers and Painters, A treatise by Qadi Ahmad, son of Mir Munshi, translated from the Persian, Washington, 1959, p.64
Soudavar, A.: Art of the Persian Courts, New York, 1992, pp.59-62
von Folsach, K.: Art from the World of Islam in the David Collection, Copenhagen, 2001, p.61
World of Islam, exhibiiton catalogue, Geneva, 1988, pp.104-5