Arts of the Book: Manuscripts, Folios, Bindings
Qur’an Folio In Bihari Script
Sultanate, 15th century CE
Materials and technique
Ink, opaque watercolour, and gold on paper
36.8 x 27.8 cm
This folio belongs to one of a very few Qur’an manuscripts that survive from the period between Timur’s invasion of northern India in 1398-99 and the founding of the Mughal dynasty in 1526 CE. It has been a challenge to understand the general development of the arts of the book in this region during the fifteenth century due to the diversity of artistic styles corresponding to the cultural centres of independent Muslim sultanates. Manuscript production seemed to follow the Timurid tradition in Iran and Central Asia, with one distinguishing feature: the use of the bihari script, as shown here. A strange mutation of naskh script with obscure origins, bihari appears only in manuscripts predating the Mughals (James 1992b, p. 102). It is characterized by an exaggeration of the sublinear letter forms through a thickening of the letter’s curves and a sharpening of its end points. On the present page, thirteen lines have been calligraphed in gold, red, and black, with black diacritical marks and interlinear Persian translations in red nasta'liq script. The first of every three lines is alternately executed in gold or red ink, outlined in black, followed by two lines of black script. The gilded and coloured lines do not include text that varies in significance from the following lines in black, but the formula creates a visual rhythm that brings a sense of order to a somewhat overpacked page of text. Gold circular pendants separate singular verses and the letter 'ayn, standing for 'asharah (ten) to mark a group of ten verses, appears in the left margin, sandwiched vertically by glosses in black Persian nasta'liq. A clearly visible mistake in the six and seventh lines - additional words that do not appear in the Qur’anic verses have been circled and crossed out after it was too late - suggests that this particular Qur’an was not executed by a scribe of the highest calibre.
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