Arabic manuscript on vellum, with five lines to the page written in bold angular Kufic script in dark brown ink, with vowels and diacritics in red, blue and green.
The manuscript from which this page comes was commissioned by a former nurse of the Zirid Prince al-Mu’iz ibn Badis, and endowed to the Great Mosque at Qairouan. It is one of the very few early Qur’ans for which we know both the date and location of production, and the identity of the person for whom the work was made.
The style of calligraphy is unique to this manuscript, and uniquely powerful. The draw of the ink gives life to the letters, and the extraordinary arrangements of the lettering, with their flourishes and contrasts, bring to mind a musical score. This type of Kufic script is usually referred to as ‘Western Kufic’, with reference to its known origin, different in the main from the styles developed further East. But, confusingly, the angularity of the script relates it more closely to what is called ‘Eastern Kufic’, and similarly idiosyncratic calligraphy is found on Nishapur pottery of the period. Between 958 and 1011 the Fatimids established a vassal state in Sind with its capital at Multan, and also had a significant community in Nishapur, which would explain the international nature of the artistic styles developed under their rule.
The Zirids were the first Berber dynasty of North Africa, originally governing on behalf of the Egyptian Fatimids, and based in Qairouan. It was Mu’iz ibn Badis (ruled 1016–62) for whom this Qur’an was made, and who declared independence from the Fatimids, transferring his allegiance to the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad. According to the Arab historian Ibn Khaldun, his reign was the most luxurious and ostentatious of the Zirids.
Other pages from the manuscript are in the National Institute of Archaeology and Art, Tunis; the Ibrahim Ibn Al-Aghlab Museum, Qairouan; the Metropolitan Museum, New York; the C.L. David Collection, Copenhagen; the Khalili Collection, London; and the Kooros Collection, Houston.
Martin Lings, The Quranic Art of Calligraphy and Illumination, London, 1976, no. 10
Martin Lings and Yasin Hamid Safadi, The Qur’an, London, 1976, no. 25
Y.H. Safadi, Islamic Calligraphy, London, 1978, p. 23
François Déroche, The Abbasid Tradition, London, 1992
M.B. Piotrovsky and J.M. Rogers, Heaven on Earth, Art from Islamic Lands, London, 2004, no. 6
Marcus Fraser and Will Kwiatkowski, Ink and God: Islamic Calligraphy, exhibition catalogue, Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin, 2006, no. 15
David J. Roxburgh, Writing the Word of God, Calligraphy and the Qur’an, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, cover, and figs. 12, 13