Sheila Blair in her seminal work on Islamic Calligraphy states that there is no firm means of dating Qur'an manuscripts before the ninth Century (Sheila Blair, Islamic Calligraphy, Edinburgh, 2008, p. 105). However, by observing the qualities of the script and the extraordinary illumination and comparing them both with other manuscripts and with dated monuments of Islamic architecture, we can attribute an at least probable date and place of production prior to the 9th Century.
The clarity and vibrancy of the pigments used in the border decoration enable a multitude of motifs to be identified. The scrolling vine found on the palmettes which extend into the margins are similar to those on the lintel covering on the North entrance to the Dome of the Rock (which is dated 72 AH/691-92 AD). In particular the curving of the tendrils attached to the main scrolls is very similar. See Marylin Jenkins, A Vocabulary of Umayyad Ornament, in Masahif Sana'a, exhibition catalogue, Kuwait, 1985, figure 1a and 1b, p. 20). For a Qur'an folio with comparable scrolling vine with cusped edged leaves dated to the end of the 7th or early 8th Century, see a Qur'an leaf in the Dar al Makhtutat al-Yamaniyya from the 'San'a Qur'an', illustrated in Alain George, The Rise of Islamic Calligraphy, London, 2010, pl. 52, p. 79. A further illuminated opening from a Qur'an combines both architectural and abstract geometric motifs, (George, op. cit., pl. 58, p. 88). Interestingly, the inner border of that opening illumination has a very similar zigzag leaf pattern to the inner border on the recto side of our own folio. That illuminated opening illustrates the confluence of actually representing architectural design alongside the use of architectural motifs to create repeating abstract border designs. This confirms the close relationship between architectural design and that of manuscript illumination, which had been established in the first century of Islam.
Despite the opulent layout, fine detail and the use of a wide range of colours including green, brown, blue and yellow used to illuminate this folio, there is no sign of gold decoration. Gold illumination on Qur'an folios was a technique that became fashionable only in the 9th Century, which indicates that our Qur'an is likely predate this era. It therefore probably dates to the middle to the late 8th Century. It is interesting to examine the relationship between the script and the illumination. The style of kufic in this Qur'an has been classified by Droche as type D.I, identified most clearly by the initial 'ayn which has a distinctive open hook with a thin upper part and a wider lower section, as seen in each of the first five lines of the recto side of this folio. Several type D.I Qur'ans have been dated to the 9th and early 10th Century (Franois Droche, The Abbasid Tradition, London, 1992, pp. 36-37). The very early illumination demonstrates that this style of kufic has roots that go back as far as the 8th century.
In terms of attributing this folio to a particular area, both the kufic script style and the illumination give us clear indications. The extended horizontal strokes (mashq) that are present on this folio were, according to Deroche, only used in manuscripts from Damascus, (Deroche, op. cit. p. 42). Further to this, we can add the presence of motifs found both in the illumination of this folio and also on Arab monuments such as the Dome of the Rock and Umayyad desert palaces such as Khirbat al-Mafjar, (Jenkins, op. cit. pp. 19-23), all of which are located in the Umayyad heartland of the Levant.
A folio from this Qur'an with a sura heading sold in these Rooms, 15 Ocotber 1994, lot 47.
A comparable fully illuminated folio from this Qur'an, but only fully illuminated on one side, was sold at Sotheby's, 8 October 2008, lot 1.