Arts of the Book: Manuscripts, Folios, Bindings
Qajar, dated 1236 H/1847 CE
Materials and technique
Opaque watercolour, gold and ink on paper
575 x 12.5 cm
The decoration of this Qur’an scroll links it to an ornamental vocabulary we find on many Qur’an pages from Qajar Iran. Two rectangles, one perpendicular to the other, are surrounded by bands and borders in gold, green and red. The first rectangle, placed vertically, is decorated with a central medallion bordered with foliage and flora, with a design reminiscent of medallion carpets and of many book bindings. Red is the dominant colour and is also used for the title of the work, Innahu li-Qur’an karim fi kitab maknun (“here, in truth, is a noble Qur’an contained in a hidden book”), which appears in a lobed cartouche inserted in the second rectangle. The tiny ghubari script - its name literally means “dust” - makes it possible to copy the entire Qur’an on very small surfaces. Passages of the Qur’anic verses are inscribed in separate fields in thuluth script. They are arranged in cartouches reminiscent of prayer mats at either end, in the style of a mihrab. The first separate inscription is part of verse 13 of Surat al-Saff; the second, an extract from verse 35 of Surat al-Nur (The Light). Sometimes a word within a separate field is arranged in a twelve-pointed star. Verses are copied diagonally in the borders of the central rectangle which contains the text. The scroll was designed to be unrolled and read in its entirety. The juxtaposition of the initial text in ghubar and the passages in thuluth in separate fields was sometimes intended to fulfil a role of divine protection: the reader could unfold the text’s full talismanic properties simply by reading the texts in the fields. Most scrolls contain talismanic texts including extracts from the Qur’an (known for its protective powers). Sometimes the whole Qur’anic scroll could function as a talismanic amulet. The copyist of the scroll displayed here is Zayn al-‘Abidin Isfahani, a contemporary of Fath ‘Ali Shah, by whom he was designated mo‘djez-negar, which can be translated as “writer of miracles”. He was one of the calligraphic masters of the nineteenth century, the creator of many works, Qur’ans, prayer books and calligraphic pages in qita‘, murraqa‘ and riqa‘. Qur’anic, prayer and talismanic scrolls are not unique to Qajar Iran: their presence is attested from the fourteenth century onwards.
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