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The Aga Khan Museum: Arts of the Book: Manuscripts, Folios, Bindings - 9th-10th century CE  Place your mouse over the image
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Arts of the Book: Manuscripts, Folios, Bindings

Object name
Bifolium From The “blue Qur’an”

North Africa

9th-10th century CE

Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour, silver (now oxidised), and gold on blue-dyed parchment

26 x 69 cm

Accession number


This extraordinary bifolium of gold kufic calligraphy on indigo-dyed parchment comes from the celebrated “Blue Qur’an,” one of the most lavish Qur’an manuscripts ever created. Careful attention to detail was devoted to every aspect of the manuscript, including the complex and costly technique of chrysography. Silver rosettes (now oxidized) were also used to indicate the divisions between the verses. The virtual simplicity of decoration and illumination using the finest materials - indigo-dyed parchment, silver, and gold - combined with the angular kufic script results in an overwhelming effect on the viewer regardless of his or her level of literacy. Although the two folios are attached, they do not represent sequential pages in the manuscript. Fifteen lines of text fill each page in a dense, angular kufic script typical of manuscripts attributed to the tenth century (Déroche, 1983, p. 42); no diacritical marks are used to indicate vowels. The calligrapher also inserted cæsuræ within the words in order to place isolated letters at the beginning of the line as much as possible, creating a column effect. The rhythm of the script is made even more striking by the reduction of illuminating elements to a minimum: in the margin of the left folio, an almost obliterated silver rosette marks each group of twenty verses. Differing views exist as to the exact origins of this manuscript. One scholar has relied on palaeographical and historical evidence to suggest that it was created for the Fatimids, who ruled North Africa from Qayrawan during the first half of the tenth century (Bloom 1986, pp. 59-65; Bloom 1989, pp. 95-99; Bloom 2007, pp. 42-44). Another, however, notes that the alphanumeric notation system (abjad), here apparent in the form of letters appearing in medallions at the end of each verse, was subsequently reserved only for the western Islamic world (Stanley 1995, pp. 7-15). The unusual colour scheme may have been inspired by Byzantine manuscripts or documents, some of which are written in silver and gold on parchment dyed blue or purple. The blue and gold decoration of the mihrab at the Great Mosque of Cordoba may also bear some relation to the similar decoration used for the Blue Qur’an. A section of the manuscript is currently housed in the National Institute of Art and Archaeology in Tunis and detached leaves or fragments are in the National Library, Tunis, the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, and in other public and private collections.

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