Magnificent in size, this folio comes from one of the oldest surviving Qur'an manuscripts in existence. It is written in an early version of the kufic script with no diacritical marks to distinguish the letters, and with very limited illumination. Based on the form of the script, and the illuminations that do survive on other pages from this Qur'an, the book has been attributed to Cairo, Egypt; Damascus, Syria; or Sana'a, Yemen. About one third of the original manuscript is housed in the Hast-Imam Library in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
This oversize folio comes from one of the oldest Qur’an manuscripts in existence. Often referred to as the ‘Uthman or Tashkent Qur’an, this monumental manuscript is possibly the largest extant Qur’an on parchment. The text, which is from Sura 21 (al-Anbiya,"The Prophets"), verses 103–111, contains twelve lines in kufic script. Only two illuminated folios from this manuscript survive (one in Paris, the other in Gotha); the remainder of the folios, like this one, are devoid of both illumination and diacritical marks.
The script used here is an early version of kufic. In fact, the verticality and the slight slant of the shafts of the letters and their position on the baseline demonstrate possible traces of the hijazi script (a script used before the development of kufic). Although its origin remains uncertain, we do know that hijazi was still in use in Cairo, Damascus, or Sana‘a during the late eighth or early ninth century. Based on orthographic studies and carbon dating, a number of scholars have dated this manuscript of the Qur’an to the end of the eighth and the beginning of the ninth century. One scholar has drawn parallels between the rows of arches in the surviving illuminated folio in Paris and those in a folio of the Sana‘a Qur’an, contending that these images resemble the shimmering mosaics of the Dome of the Rock and the Great Mosque of Damascus and were, in all likelihood, illuminated and executed by outstanding artisans trained in Byzantine (or Syriac) scriptoria.
The largest portion of the manuscript to which this folio belongs is presently kept in a madrasa library attached to the Tellya-Shaikh Mosque in an area of old Tashkent. The story of how it arrived there is not entirely clear, but most likely it was carried along the Silk Road from the Near East or North Africa via Merv, Bukhara, and Samarqand. It was taken to St. Petersburg in 1868 after the Russian conquest of Central Asia and housed in the Imperial Library there (now the Russian National Library), at which time a number of pages were separated from the rest, including this one. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, in an act of goodwill to the Muslims of Russia, reportedly gave the Qur’an to the people of Ufa, in modern Bashkortostan. Following repeated appeals by the people of Turkestan, the Qur’an was returned to Central Asia in 1924, where it has since remained. From 1905 to 1971 this exceptional Qur’an was subjected to extensive paleographic research, providing valuable insight into early kufic Qur’an manuscripts and their historical trajectories.
Maryam Ekhtiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. Forschungs- und Landesbibliothek, Gotha (Or. A462) and Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris (BN Arabe 324c). See Déroche and Gladiss 1999, p. 20, no. 5; and Paris 2001–2, p. 37, no. 14.
2. Déroche 1992, pp. 27–33. See also George 2010, pp. 87–88.
3. A companion folio was carbon-dated at Oxford, showing a 68 percent probability of a date between 640 and 765 and a 95 percent probability of a date between 595 and 855, confirming the stylistic dating. See Fendall 2003, p. 12.
4. This Qur’an, dating to 649–90 A.D., is in the Dar al-Makhtutat al- Yamaniyya (House of Manuscripts) in Sana‘a, Yemen. See Amsterdam 1999–2000, pp. 101–4.
5. George 2010, pp. 87–88. For an image of the illuminated page in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris (BN Arabe 324c), see ibid., fig. 57.
6. See Déroche 1999.
7. In St. Petersburg it was studied in depth by A. F. Shebunin. See Fendall 2003, pp. 12–13.
8. MacWilliam 2006. MacWilliam, Ian. "Tashkent’s Hidden Islamic Relic." BBC News, London, January 5, 2006. http://www.news. bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4581684.stm
9. A facsimile of the manuscript was published in 1905 by Uspenskii and Pisarev, and a thorough paleographic study of the remaining section of the manuscript was carried out in 1971 by Salahuddin al-Muhajjid. See Pisarev 1905.
Inscription: In Arabic language and in Kufic script:
Private collection, Norway; [ Sam Fogg, London, until 2004; sold to MMA]
Coran coufique de Samarcand, écrit d’après la tradition de la propre main du troisième calife Osman (644–656) qui se trouve dans la Bibliothèque Impériale Publique de St. Petersbourg.
. St. Petersberg, 1905.
Raby, Julian, ed. "The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art." In The Abbasid Tradition: Qur'ans of the Eighth to the Tenth Centuries A.D.. London, 1992. pp. 27–33.
Earthly Beauty, Heavenly Art: Art of Islam. Amsterdam, 1999. pp. 101–4.
George, Alain. The Rise of Islamic Calligraphy. London, 2010. pp. 87–88.
Fendall, Ramsey. Islamic Calligraphy. London, 2003. p. 12.
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 1, pp. 25-26, ill. p. 25 (color).