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8 / Writing

Leaf from a Qur’an Manuscript
Leaf from a Qur’an Manuscript
Artist / Origin Unknown artist, attr. to Spain
Region: Europe
Date 13th–14th century
Material Ink, colors, and gold on vellum
Dimensions H: 21 1/16 in. (53.5 cm.), W: 22 in. (55.9 cm.)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund

expert perspective

Adriana ProserCurator of Traditional Asian Art, Asia Society

Additional Resources

Baker, Colin F. Qur’an Manuscripts: Calligraphy, Illumination, Design. London: The British Library, 2007.

Blair, Sheila S. Islamic Calligraphy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008.

Bloom, Jonathan, and Sheila S. Blair. Islamic Arts. London: Phaidon, 1997.

Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Art and Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson, 1998.

“Leaf from a Qur’an manuscript [Attributed to Spain] (42.63).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/07/eusi/ho_42.63.htm (October 2006).

Leaman, Oliver, ed. The Qur’an: An Encyclopedia. London: Taylor & Francis, 2006.

Roxburgh, David J. Writing the Word of God: Calligraphy and the Qur’an. Houston: Museum of Fine Arts Houston, 2008.

Leaf from a Qur’an Manuscript

» Unknown artist, attr. to Spain

According to religious tradition, the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an (meaning “recitation”), is the Word of God, related in its original Arabic to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel.

In the early years of Islam, the words were transmitted orally from person to person, with bits and pieces written down unsystematically. Only later was the text collated, codified, and set down on paper in its entirety. Thanks to this, copying the Qur’an is regarded as a pious act, and even in the very first centuries of Islam, calligraphy, the art of the written word, was exalted as a sacred art form. Early Qur’ans were written with hijazi script or the stricter, more formal style known as kufic that developed afterward.

In Qur’ans from Northern Africa and Islamic Spain, the calligraphic script used, known as maghribi, has its own distinct look, style, composition, and, often, coloration. Maghribi, or “western” script, can be seen in this example of a Qur’an leaf dating to the thirteenth or fourteenth century. As is characteristic of this style, there is an emphasis here on extending the horizontal elements of letters, and certain diacritical marks are made in blue or green.

Gold leaf has been applied in Qur’an manuscripts since as early as the eighth century. The three ornate gold medallions on this page mark the breaks between verses. The calligrapher has decorated the large one with organic, plant-inspired patterns, while the two smaller ones feature a more geometrical linear design. The line in gold at the top identifies the chapter, or sura, of the page’s text. The beautiful, thick gold script is carefully edged in red, adding to the visual richness of this important heading.

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