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Lot 56
A Monumental Qur'an Page in muhaqqaq script, made after the 15th Century Great "Baysunghur" Qur'an, sura XXI, Anbiya, The Prophets, verses, 49-55
probably Persia, 18th/ 19th Century
Sold for £ 23,500 (US$ 31,225) inc. premium

Lot Details
A Monumental Qur'an Page in muhaqqaq script, made after the 15th Century Great "Baysunghur" Qur'an, sura XXI, Anbiya, The Prophets, verses, 49-55
probably Persia, 18th/ 19th Century
Arabic manuscript on paper, 7 lines to the page written in bold and elegant muhaqqaq script in black ink, diacritics and vowel points in black and red, verse markers in the form of illuminated circular devices, gilt interlinear decoration, lacks outer margins, written on two sheets of paper manufactured on a wire-mould, creases, skillfully repaired, relined
168 x 97.5 cm.


  • Historical Background

    Prince Baysunghur was the son of the Timurid ruler Shah Rukh (reigned 1404 -1444). He lived in Herat and devoted most of his of time to the patronage of the arts. He was himself an accomplished calligrapher, and was trained by a follower of Yaqut al-Musta'simi. According to David James: "To have written a complete copy of the Qur'an and with this degree of precision and perfection must have been a physically punishing exercise. The resulting masterpiece has excited admiration down the centuries but, unfortunately, this proved to be the manuscript's undoing. Baysunghur apparently copied the manuscript for the tomb of his grandfather Timur (Tamerlane, d, 1404) in Samarkand, and there it remained until the city was captured the by 18th Century Afshar warlord Nadir Shah. Nadir Shah's troops dismembered the famous manuscript and stole many of its leaves, which were later lost or badly damaged." (David James and Francois Deroche, Islamic Calligraphy, Exhibition Catalogue, Geneva, 1988, p. 104, no. 24; also see Toby Falk (ed.), Treasures of Islam, Exhibition Catalogue, Geneva, 1985, p. 57, no. 26). However, in the catalogue of Timur and the Princely Vision in 1989, it was suggested that the manuscript fitted more naturally under the patronage of Timur himself, and that the great marble Qur'an stand commissioned by Ulug Beg after Timur's death, and originally located in the main chamber of the Friday Mosque at Samarkand was probably made specifically for this Qur'an. This attribution was expanded considerably by Soudavar (A. Soudavar, Art of the Persian Courts, Washington D.C., 1992, no. 20a-b, pp. 59-62). On the other hand, Qadi Ahmad says that the manuscript was dispersed as early as the 16th Century, and mentions that the calligrapher Malik al-Dailami owned one folio(V. Minorsky, transl., Calligraphers and Painters: A Treatise by Qadi Ahmad, Son of Mir Munshi, Washington D.C., 1959, p. 64). However, it seems probable that several leaves were made in the 18th or 19th Centuries.

    According to David James, the later pages were made in imitation or admiration of the Great 'Baysunghur' Qur'an produced in Samarqand in the 15th Century. These pages were probably produced after pages from the original were seen in Quchan, in north-east Persia, by James Baillie Fraser, but there is no evidence that he ever attempted to copy such a large Qur'an. Nasr al-Din Shah visited Quchan and ordered that two of the pages be brought to Tehran. In 1912, some of the pages were retrieved from Quchan and brought to Mashhad.

    There has been some debate over which of the surviving folios are 15th Century and which are later. The present page seems to be one of the latter group since it was written on at least two sheets of paper manufactured on a wire-mould, produced from the 18th Century onwards; the measurements are slightly smaller than the original pages, and the ink has not been absorbed into the paper.

    Other pages are in the Mashhad Shrine Library; the Gulistan Palace Library; the Reza-i Abbasi Museum, Tehran; the Metropolitan Museum, New York; The Art and History Trust Collection, Washington D.C.; the Khalili Collection, London; and various public and private collections. Another page and fragments from this Qur'an were included in the following auctions: Sotheby's, Geneva, 25 June 1985, lot 18 (4 lines); Christie's London, 25th November 1985, lot 105 (1 line); Sotheby's London, 10th October 1988, lot 168 (1 page) and lot 169 (3 lines including sura heading, basmallah and part of verse 1); Christie's London, 21st October 1993, lot 46 (1 line); Drouot, Paris, 23rd April 1994, lot 341 (2 lines); Sotheby's London, 22nd April 1999, lot 15 (2 lines, same fragment as Paris sale); and Sotheby's London, 12th October 2000, lot 15 (2 lines).

    For further reading, see:

    The Arts of Islam, Exhibition Catalogue, The Hayward Gallery, London, 1976, no. 558;
    Basil Gray (ed.), The Arts of the Book in Central Asia, Paris and London, 1979, p. 11, pl. 2;
    Islamic Art, Metropolitan Museum booklet, New York, n.d.
    David James, After Timur, London, 1992, pp. 18-25;
    T. Lentz and G. Lowry, Timur and the Princely Vision, Washington D.C., 1989, nos. 6A, B and C.
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