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A GROUP OF LEAVES FROM AN EARLY QUR'AN PROBABLY FROM KAIROUAN
The Qur'an from which the following ten lots originate is one of the most beautiful Qur'ans on parchment ever produced. In its large size with only three lines to the page written in a unique form of kufic and its elegant and harmonious illumination, this is truly one of the most exceptional Qur'ans ever produced.
The script is a blend of early kufic with rigorous and well-spaced letters which conform to strict horizontal and vertical spacing with elegant curving of some of the terminal letters below the line. It is perhaps the first appearance of a cursive script. The present group shows how a group of calligraphers worked on the same manuscript. One of the scribes conforms to a more typical upright style of kufic as shown in sura al-hadid (lot 10), while another makes more use of the graceful curves of the terminal letter, see sura al-rahman (lots 4-6). Undoubtedly the master calligrapher of this group wrote sura al-rum (lot 3). Here the letters are stretched in both directions while never losing the harmony of composition.
The illumination is confined to small pyramids of golden dots marking the end of the verse and some spectacular larger medallions marking each tenth verse.
The manuscript is among one of very few Qur'ans produced with only three lines to the page. It would evidently have been a very expensive production as more parchment and time would have been needed for its production.
The attribution to Kairouan is based on the fact that only two other Qur'ans are known that use this script. Both are in Tunisia, one in the National Library, Tunis (Lings and Safadi: The Qur'an, British Library exhibition catalogue, London, 1976, no.24), the other in the Musée des Arts Islamiques, Kairouan (De Carthage a Kairouan-2000 ans d'art et d'histoire en Tunisie, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 1983, no. 358). It seems reasonable to assume that this Qur'an was produced at Kairouan, a centre of production for luxurious Qur'an manuscripts, such as the famous Blue Qur'an.
At this time, Kairouan was part of the Fatimid kingdon of Ifriqiya. When the Fatimids transfered the seat of the caliphate to Cairo in 361/972 it was the end of Kairouan's days as a capital city, and it went into an inexorable decline. This manuscript must have been copied in the first half of the tenth century under the patronage of the Fatimids.
Other folios from this Qur'an are in various collections: The Dar al-athar al-islamiyyah, Kuwait; the Tareq Rajab Museum, Kuwait; Nasser D. Khalili Collection, London.
Other leaves have been sold in recent years at auction; in these rooms on 11 October 1988, lot 36 and 13 October 1998, lots 8-9.
Also at Sotheby's 25 June 1985, lot 6; 21 November 1985, lot 292; 22 May 1986, lots 246-7; 20 November 1986, lots 275-6; 11 October 1991 lot 887; 23 October 1992, lot 557; 22 October 1993, lots 19-20; 19 October 1994 lots 6-7; 29 April 1998, lot 3; 15 October 1998, lot 4; 3 May 2001, lot 1; 18 October 2001, lot 1, and most recently at Sotheby's 25 April 2002, lot 5.
This is the largest group of these leaves to appear at auction and a unique opportunity to observe the slight differences in style of calligraphy.
See also Al-Andalus (exhibition catalogue), New York, 1992, fig. 1 p. 117; Deroche, F.: The Abbasid Tradition, London, 1992, no. 58; Encyclopaedia of Islam, Leiden, 1990, Vol. IV, pp. 829-30.