Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Folio from the "Blue Qur'an"

Object Name:
Folio from a non-illustrated manuscript
second half 9th–mid-10th century
Made in Tunisia, probably Qairawan
Gold and silver on indigo-dyed parchment
11 15/16 x 15 13/16 in. (30.4 x 40.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2004
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 450
This folio comes from a sumptuous, multivolume Qur'an with indigo pages and silver verse markers that was probably copied in North Africa. Its palette is thought to refer to the purple‑dyed, gilded manuscripts made in the neighboring Byzantine empire. As in other early Qur'ans, the script here is difficult to read because the letters have been manipulated to make each line the same length, and the marks necessary to distinguish between letters have been omitted.
From the Blue Qur’an, one of the most lavish Qur’an manuscripts ever produced, this double-sided leaf contains fifteen lines of kufic script in gold ink on indigo-dyed parchment. Like most Qur’ans from the eighth through the tenth century, it is distinguished by a horizontal format, use of parchment, and kufic script. On the two sides of this leaf, as with all the pages from the Blue Qur’an, the voweling and diacritical marks are omitted, and ornamentation is kept to a minimum. The only decoration found on many of these pages consists of the circular silver marks, now almost entirely oxidized and faded, that separate each verse. The sparse ornamentation allows for an uninterrupted progression and bold movement of the letters from right to left. The text on the two sides here is from Sura 30:24–32 (al-Rum, "The Byzantine Empire").
Firm evidence is lacking regarding the origin, exact date, and patron of this manuscript, although all of the thirty-seven extant pages, now scattered in museum and private collections throughout the world, probably come from one manuscript preserved at the Institut National d’Archeologie et d’Art in Tunis.[1] Several scholars have suggested dates for the Blue Qur’an, ranging from the ninth to the mid-tenth century, and attributed it to either Qairawan in present-day Tunisia or Cordoba in Umayyad Spain.[2] Some have posited a date on the basis of stylistic affinities between the Blue Qur’an illuminated folios in Qairawan and Raqqada and the palmette trees and vegetal designs on the minbar and mihrab of the Great Mosque of Qairawan.[3] Jonathan Bloom’s attribution of the manuscript to Qairawan derives from a particular system of abjad numbering in the manuscript that is specific to the Islamic West.[4] In addition, a description of a manuscript having the same specifications was found in an inventory in the Mosque of Qairawan in A.H. 693/1293 A.D. This implies that at the end of the thirteenth century, the work was still in the city in which it was probably produced.[5]
Very few Qur’ans on colored parchment are known. The majority of early Qur’an manuscripts are executed in brown or black ink with red voweling and diacritical marks against a white ground. The use of gold lettering makes this manuscript an especially rare and luxurious example. It could have been commissioned by the caliph himself or by a wealthy, pious patron such as a governor. The practice of writing in gold or silver ink on blue or purple vellum or parchment most likely came from the Christian Byzantine Empire, where official documents and manuscripts were often executed in this manner.
Maryam Ekthiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. The Bibliothèque Nationale de Tunisie in Tunis and the Musée National d’Art Islamique in Raqqada have the greatest share of the pages. The equivalent of a juz’ is presently in the Musée National d’Art Islamique de Raqqada. See Ettinghausen, Grabar, and Jenkins-Madina 2001, pp. 98–99, 312.
2. Bloom, Jonathan M. "The Blue Koran: An Early Fatimid Kufic Manuscript from the Maghrib." In Les manuscrits du Moyen- Orient: Essais de codicologie et de paléographie; Actes du Colloque d’Istanbul (Istanbul, 26–29 mai 1986), edited by Francois Deroche, pp. 95–99. Varia Turcica VIII. Istanbul and Paris, 1989. See also Ettinghausen, Grabar, and Jenkins-Madina 2001, pp. 98–99.
3. Ettinghausen, Grabar, and Jenkins-Madina 2001, p. 98.
4. B loom observed that calligraphers from the Maghrib or western Islamic lands, comprising Spain and North Africa, sometimes used different letters than their Muslim counterparts in the east to represent numbers in the abjad system. He based his argument upon the differences between markings on Iraqi and Andalusian astrolabes made around the same time. See Bloom 1989.
5. Qur’ans and Bindings from the Chester Beatty Library: A Facsimile Exhibition. Exhibition, Leighton House Gallery, London. Catalogue by David [Lewis] James. London, 1980, p. 22. This connection was made by the scholar Ibrahim Shabbuh in 1956. See Neumeier, Emily. "Early Koranic Manuscripts: The Blue Koran Debate." Elements: Boston College Undergraduate Research Journal 2, no. 1 (Spring 2006), p. 13.

Inscription: recto: Quran 30:25ish to 30:28 (ending at "mar z")
verso: Quran 30:28 (from "fntm") to 30:32 (ending at wa ka)

In Arabic language and in Kufic script:
Koran 30:28-32

Probably Great Mosque of Qairawan, Tunisia(from about 900); [ Sam Fogg, London, by 2002–4; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Balcony Calligraphy Exhibition," June 1, 2009–October 26, 2009, no catalogue.

Ettinghausen Richard, Oleg Grabar, and Marilyn Jenkins-Madina, ed. Islamic Art and Architecture, 650–1250. 2nd ed. New Haven and London, pp. 98–99, 312.

Carboni, Stefano, Navina Haidar, and Maryam Ekhtiar. "Recent Acquistions: A Selection 2003-2004." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 62, no. 2 (Fall 2004). p. 10, ill.

Carboni, Stefano. "The Arts of the Fatimid Period at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Ismaili (2008). p. 4, ill. fig. 1 (color).

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. 30, pp. 54, 58-59, ill. p. 59 (color).

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