During the Ilkhanid period, a series of magnificent, large‑scale Qur'an manuscripts were produced. While few can be directly linked to royal patronage, the size and quality of their paper, along with their splendid calligraphy and illumination, suggest they were produced for members of the Ilkhanid court. This folio from the "Anonymous Baghdad Qur'an" (so called due to its unknown patron) provides not only its date and place of production, but also the name of its masterful calligrapher and illuminator.
This illuminated folio and folio no. 50.12 come from different sections of one of the acknowledged masterpieces of calligraphy and book production in the Islamic world. The so-called Anonymous Baghdad Qur’an was created under Ilkhanid patronage in the first decade of the fourteenth century, specifically between late 1301 (or very early 1302) and 1308. Under the Ilkhanid rulers, who converted to Islam in the late thirteenth century, several luxury copies of the Qur’an were commissioned with the aim of distributing them across the country, either as endowments to major mosques or for placement in mausoleums that were built while the patrons were still alive. Crucial to this was the guidance of the Ilkhanid vizier Rashid al-Din (d. 1318), a converted Persian Jew who created in the capital of Tabriz an atelier for copying and distributing literary texts. In addition to that scriptorium, several other important Ilkhanid cities had long-standing traditions of book production, foremost among which was Baghdad, the former capital of the Abbasids, which had been captured by the Ilkhanids in 1258. While we know that the thirty-part manuscript to which these two pages once belonged was produced in Baghdad, we do not know the name of its patron or its intended destination. Possible candidates have included Sultan Ghazan (r. 1295–1304); his successor, Sultan Uljaitu (r. 1304–16); or one of their powerful viziers, perhaps Rashid al-Din or Sa‘d al-Din Savaji. It may have been made for deposit in the mausoleum of Sultan Ghazan, which was completed in 1301. However, we do know the names of both the calligrapher and the illuminator of this splendid codex: not surprisingly, they were among the most celebrated and prolific artists at the court of the Ilkhanids. The calligrapher, Ibn al-Suhrawardi, may have been the grandson of a well-known sufi from the small town of Suhraward in northwestern Iran. A pupil of Yaqut al-Musta‘simi (d. 1298), the most renowned calligrapher of his time, he may well have surpassed his master while copying this Qur’an. Ibn al-Suhrawardi is credited with designing inscriptions for a number of buildings in Baghdad and with the production of thirty-three complete Qur’an manuscripts. Unfortunately, few of his works survive. The illuminator, Muhammad ibn Aibak ibn ‘Abdallah, signed his name several times throughout the present manuscript, adding that he was working in the City of Peace, Baghdad; although Ibn Aibak’s signatures appear in a few other manuscripts as well, little is known about his life. The dates provided by the calligrapher and the illuminator throughout the surviving sections of this codex document the different paces at which they worked: Ibn Suhrawardi was able to copy approximately eight volumes each year, while Ibn Aibak managed to illuminate only four of them.
Folio no. 50.12 is the right-hand side of the two-page frontispiece for the twenty-sixth juz’, or part, of this Qur’an. According to the colophon for this section, now in the Iran Bastan Museum in Tehran, it was finished by Ibn Suhrawardi in A.H. 706/1306–7 A.D. The quality of Ibn Aibak’s illumination here is nothing short of superb: the central eight-pointed star set against a lapis blue background is duplicated within an ever-expanding pattern that is interrupted by the square framing, thus allowing the view of half stars in the center of the four sides and quarter stars at the corners. The complex gold geometric interlacing that separates the stars becomes the dominant pattern and creates space for four small polychrome “flowers.” The elegant inscription in black outlined in gold represents half of the text originally copied on this double-sided frontispiece. The outer border, although slightly discolored due to damage, is also spectacular, with an undulating brown band contrasting against the blue background and a large pendant off to the right side.
The two illuminated sections of this folio are in Aibak’s hand; the text contains the second half of the colophon, possibly of the thirtieth and last juz’ of the Qur’an. The most prominent feature of this folio is the three lines of text set against the polished white paper, copied by Ibn Suhrawardi in a most accomplished, artistic, balanced, and flowing muhaqqaq cursive calligraphy. The magnificent achievement of this artist enables even those viewers who cannot read Arabic to have an emotive appreciation for it. In possibly the very last written words of the last volume of this extraordinary manuscript, the calligrapher offers his name to posterity: Ahmad ibn Suhrawardi al-Bakri. Stefano Carboni in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011] Footnotes: 1. Due to the fact that none of the surviving volumes or individual folios contains a waqfiyya (official endowment) or a record of commission, this manuscript has been referred to as the Anonymous Baghdad Qur’an. See James, David [Lewis]. Manuscripts of the Holy Qur’an from the Mamluk Era. King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies. 1988 , pp. 78–92. 2. Ibid., pp. 89–92. 3. Ibid., p. 90. 4. Published in ibid., fig. 58. 5. See the translation of the inscriptions. The full verse would have ended on the other side with ". . . nor from behind it. A revelation from the Wise the Praised One." 6. One has to keep in mind that a mirror-illuminated page once faced the present one, thus balancing the pattern and doubling the pleasure to the eye. This page seems to have been lost. 7. Published in James 1988, fig. 47 (see footnote 1); Schimmel 1992, p. 16; Carboni and Kamoroff 2002, pp. 204, 258–59, no. 64, fig. 245; Blair 2006, p. 252. 8. To my knowledge, Ibn al-Suhrawardi added the word al-Bakri to his name only on this page, making it particularly significant. It confirms that he belonged to the Suhrawardi order of sufis.
Inscription: English translations of the Qur’an are taken from Arthur J. Arberry’s "The Koran Interpreted" (New York, 1966).
In borders at top and bottom in Arabic in “new-style” script :
بغداد حماها الله تعالی في شهور/ سنة سبع وسبعمائة هلالیة
Baghdad, may God, the exalted, protect her, in the months of the year A.H. 707 [1307–8 A.D.] hilali [calendar]
At center in Arabic in muhaqqaq script:
احمد بن السهروردي البکري/ حامداً ومصلیاً علی نبیه/ محمد وآله وصحبه مسلماً
Ahmad ibn Suhrawardi al-Bakri praises God and prays for His messenger Muhammad, his family, and his companions and salutes.
[ Khalil Rabenou, New York, until 1955; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia 1256-1353," October 28, 2002–February 16, 2003, no. 64.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia 1256-1353," April 13, 2003–July 27, 2003, no. 64.
James, David. Qur'ans of the Mamluks. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988. no. 39, pp. 78-92; 235, ill. (b/w; color).
de Montebello, Philippe, and Kathleen Howard, ed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide. 6th ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1992. p. 320, ill. fig. 21 (color).
Schimmel, Annemarie. "Islamic Calligraphy." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., vol. 50, no. 1 (Summer 1992). (r) p. 16, ill. fig. 19 (color).
Rossabi, Morris, Charles Melville, James C.Y. Watt, Tomoko Masuya, Sheila Blair, Robert Hillenbrand, Linda Komaroff, Stefano Carboni, Sarah Bertelan, and John Hirx. The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353, edited by Stefano Carboni, and Linda Komaroff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. no. 64, pp. 204; 258-259, ill. fig. 245 (color).
Blair, Sheila S. Islamic Calligraphy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Library, 2006. p. 252, ill. fig. 7.4 (color), microscopic detail.
Blair, Sheila S. Islamic Calligraphy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.
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. 54B, pp. 87, 92-94, ill. p. 93 (color).
Blair, Sheila S., and Jonathan Bloom. By the Pen and What they Write. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015. pp. 119–120, ill. pl. 92.