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The Aga Khan Museum: Arts of the Book: Manuscripts, Folios, Bindings - Safavid, circa 1550-65 CE  Place your mouse over the image
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Arts of the Book: Manuscripts, Folios, Bindings

Object name
Manuscript Of A Safavid Qur’an


Safavid, circa 1550-65 CE


Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour, and gold on paper

Page 37.4 x 24.4 cm

Accession number


This manuscript is similar to Qur’ans produced in workshops of Shiraz in the sixteenth century, although it was probably not done in that city. Such Qur’ans stand out for their rich illuminations, of which the best compositions are reserved for the first and last pages of the volume. Thus, this manuscript does not open directly with the Qur’anic text, but with two pages each decorated with an inscribed rosette. The following double page carries the first sura, al-Fatiha, which can be read on two polylobate mandorlas in the centre of two completely illuminated double pages. The last pages of the volume were also subject to special treatment. These are two additional texts; a final prayer (du'a khatm) to be recited upon completion of the reading of the Qur'an, and a Falnama, an abridged bibliomancy manual which indicates the divinatory values of the letters of the Arabic alphabet (Makariou 2007, p. 139, n. 64). More modestly, an illuminated frontispiece lies above the first few verses of Surat al-Baqara, the last sura (al-Nas), and Surat al-Kahf, which is highlighted because it marks the beginning of the second half of the Qur’anic text. The double page that is reproduced here corresponds to the beginning of  Surat al-Baqara, the second and longest chapter in the Qur’an. The frontispiece (sarlaw) consists of a rectangular cartouche, surmounted by four identical florets, with alternating dark blue and gold backgrounds scattered with fine flowery foliage. At the centre of the cartouche, a polylobate medallion encircles the title of the sura, written in riqa' in white ink on a gold background. The text of the sura starts beneath this rich frontispiece and runs along in visual discontinuity; the text is divided into panels of unequal width, alternating between two writing styles, different inks and colour backgrounds. Three then five lines of naskh are etched on a white scalloped edge demarcated by a gold background decorated with fine flowery foliage. These alternate with a longer line in muhaqqaq copied in white ink against a blue background outlined in red, or against a gold background outlined in blue. Rectangular cartouches covered with flowery foliage are on either side of the lines in naskh. This visual discontinuity is purely aesthetic and does not signify, for example, the transition from one verse to the next. If the end of a verse occurs mid-line, this is only indicated on this page by a slight space between the words (e.g., the eighth and ninth lines). Outside the written surfaces, medallions punctuate the margins every five verses (with blue rosettes) and ten verses (with gold rosettes). In the margins, there is a notation made in black ink; this is the Arabic expression waqafa which recalls the transformation of this manuscript into an inalienable good (waqf) (ibid., n. 65). This mark is explained in the founding text which follows the Falnama and which declares that this manuscript was a gift from the Ottoman sultan Selim II (r. 1566-74 CE) to the mosque he founded in Edirne - the Selimiye. It is possible that this luxurious manuscript was one of a number of diplomatic gifts, presented in 1568 CE by the Safavid sovereign Shah Tahmasp to Selim II to mark the renewal of the peace treaty of Amasya, signed in 1555 CE with Selim II’s father, Süleyman the Magnificent (ibid., n. 66). As with many sixteenth century Qur’ans, we do not know the date of this manuscript’s copy, but the calligrapher, or more likely the illuminator, 'Abdallah Shirazi, signed his name at the end of the last sura. Two miniaturists bearing this name are identifiable: the first worked in the scriptorium of Shah Tahmasp in Qazvin around 1550-60 CE and died in this same city in 1574 CE (ibid., n. 67); the second, who is better known, worked in the scriptorium of the Safavid prince and governor of Mashhad, Sultan Ibrahim Mirza (1540-87 CE) in Qazvin. He died in Mashhad at an unknown date while attached to the service of the mausoleum of Imam Riza and of the tomb of his diseased protector. He contributed notably to the completion of the famous Haft Awrang created for Ibrahim Mirza and a Divan for this same prince housed in the Museum's collection. Only a close and careful analysis of the illuminations of these manuscripts and their respective signatures could confirm that the decoration of the Qur’an and of these manuscripts have been done by one and the same person (ibid., n. 68). Whether it was by the first 'Abdallah Shirazi or the second, this sumptuous Qur’an could have been copied and illuminated in the royal and princely workshops of Qazvin or Mashhad.

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