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15 August 2019

Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts in the British Library

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‘Bold script of wildness and beauty’ is Jan Just Witkam's evocative description of the calligraphy of a manuscript from Daghistan in the collection of Leiden University Library (Cod.Or. 11964), a characterisation which seems supremely well suited for a product of this mountainous and fiercely proud region in the Caucasus mountains. Today, Dagestan is a republic located in the Russian Federation, bounded to the east by the Caspian sea and to the south by Azerbaijan and Georgia, and  home to a rich and distinctive manuscript culture.  The British Library holds a small collection of ten Qur’an manuscripts from Daghistan, and in this blog each manuscript will be pictured to illustrate some of the many distinctive features of this impressive but little-known manuscript tradition.

Surat al-Fatihah, the opening pages of a large Qur’an, Daghistan, 1777. British Library, Or. 16127, ff. 2v-3r
Surat al-Fatihah, the opening pages of a large Qur’an, Daghistan, 1777. British Library, Or. 16127, ff. 2v-3r  noc

The most immediately striking feature of Daghistani manuscript illumination is the vibrant palette of red, yellow, green, purple and brown, which contrasts strongly with the predominantly blue and gold nexus of the Ottoman and Indo-Persianate manuscript traditions to the south. There is considerable variation in the architecture of decorated frames, perhaps relating to sub-regional origin or some other underlying classificatory structure: in a significant proportion of manuscripts rectangular frames are extended horizontally into the outer margins (see above), while in other manuscripts, double headpieces predominate. Characteristic motifs include double/triple scrolls and concave diamond-shaped lozenges, and the presence of ‘eyelets’ within these motifs. 

Surat al-Fatihah, the opening pages of a Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 15605, ff. 1v-2r
Surat al-Fatihah, the opening pages of a Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 15605, ff. 1v-2r  noc

Detail of characteristically Daghistani decorative motifs with concave diamond-shaped lozenges studded with ‘eyelets’, from the initial double illuminated frames of a Qur'an shown below. British Library, Or 15955, f. 5r (detail)
Detail of characteristically Daghistani decorative motifs with concave diamond-shaped lozenges studded with ‘eyelets’, from the initial double illuminated frames of a Qur'an shown below. British Library, Or 15955, f. 5r (detail)  noc

When surah headings are set in decorated rectangular panels, these may also be extended horizontally into the outer margin with a palmette or other ornamental device.  An especially distinctive and rare feature of Daghistani manuscripts is that the petalled floral verse markers are often stamped in black ink, and then hand-coloured.

Heading for Surat al-Mulk extending vertically into the margin with a decorative finial, adjoining a marginal ornament for the start of the 29th juz'; note also the stamped verse markers in black ink, coloured in with red and yellow. Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 1800.
Heading for Surat al-Mulk extending vertically into the margin with a decorative finial, adjoining a marginal ornament for the start of the 29th juz'; note also the stamped verse markers in black ink, coloured in with red and yellow. Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 1800. British Library, Or. 15913, f. 258r  noc

Heading for Surah al-Mujadilah extended into the margin, with below it an ornamental marker for the start of the 28th juz’. Qur’an, Daghistan, 19th century. British Library, Or. 16771
Heading for Surah al-Mujadilah extended into the margin, with below it an ornamental marker for the start of the 28th juz’. Qur’an, Daghistan, 19th century. British Library, Or. 16771  noc

two different designs of stamped verse markers in a Qur'an, Or 15955  stamped and uncoloured marginal ornament, and a stamped coloured verse marker, in Qur'an, Or 16033
(Left) two different designs of stamped verse markers in a Qur'an, Or 15955; (Right) stamped and uncoloured marginal ornament, and a stamped coloured verse marker, in Qur'an, Or 16033.  noc

Confirming Witkam's characterisation of Daghistani calligraphy, the Qur’anic text is generally written in a large, bold, confident and widely-spaced hand, tending towards the monumental. In Daghistani Qur’ans, the index of artistry is clearly the calibre of the calligraphy rather than the decoration, but perhaps the most unusual feature is the sense of scribal bravado or even swagger.  Elements of the text of a Qur’an traditionally highlighted calligraphically, such as the marginal annotations, or the first few words of a juz’ or beginning of a surah, are often approached with gusto. The letter ta’ marbuta is often presented decoratively as a knot surmounted by a bud.   The calligraphic treatment applied to certain words, such as the exuberant ‘amma at the start of the final juz’ of the Qur’an, or the elan of the presentation of ‘mysterious letters’ like the ha-mim, bespeak an individualism not normally associated with Qur’an manuscripts, and to an extent not encountered in any other known Qur’anic tradition.  Contrasting with the big bold Qur’anic text, catchwords and other paratextual notes are generally written in a very distinctive small cursive hand with overlining, with a pronounced slope to the right, associated with Daghistani manuscripts in the Avar language as well as Arabic.

Large, bold, hand in a Qur’an, Daghistan, 19th century. Or. 16759
Large, bold, hand in a Qur’an, Daghistan, 19th century. Or. 16759  noc

Qur’an, on blue paper, Daghistan, 19th century. Note the catchwords written in a small sloping cursive hand with overlining at the bottom of the right-hand page. Or. 16760, ff. 1v-2r
Qur’an, on blue paper, Daghistan, 19th century. Note the catchwords written in a small sloping cursive hand with overlining at the bottom of the right-hand page. Or. 16760, ff. 1v-2r.  noc

In many schools of Qur’anic manuscript art, the layout and divisions of the Qur’anic text tend to adhere to longstanding regional preferences.  In Daghistani Qur’ans, especially those with illuminated frames, the Surat al-Fatihah usually occupies the whole of the first two facing pages. This is in striking contrast to many other traditions, including the Ottoman and Southeast Asian world, where Surat al-Fatihah usually occupies a right-hand page, with the beginning of Surat al-Baqarah on the left.  When decorated frames occur in the middle of a Daghistani Qur'an, they invariably mark the start  of Surat Maryam, and the several manuscripts in the British Library of Daghistani Qur’ans produced in two volumes are also divided at the start of Surat Maryam.

Decorated frames marking the start of Surat Maryam. Qur’an, Daghistan, 1777. Or. 16127, ff. 253v-254r
Decorated frames marking the start of Surat Maryam. Qur’an, Daghistan, 1777. Or. 16127, ff. 253v-254r  noc

The start of Surat Maryam, with exhuberant calligraphic treatment of the 'mysterious letters', at the beginning of the second volume of a two-volume Qur’an, Daghistan, 19th century. Or. 16595, ff. 1v-2r
The start of Surat Maryam, with exhuberant calligraphic treatment of the 'mysterious letters', at the beginning of the second volume of a two-volume Qur’an, Daghistan, 19th century. Or. 16595, ff. 1v-2r  noc

The start of Surat Maryam, with the 'mysterious letters' framed on the left-hand page. Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. Or. 16058, ff. 274v-275r
The start of Surat Maryam, with the 'mysterious letters' framed on the left-hand page. Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. Or. 16058, ff. 274v-275r  noc

Another highly characteristic feature of many Daghistani Qur’ans is the addition of a pious phrase at the end of the first surah, al-Fatihah, the word amin or a longer phrase such as amin ya rabb al-‘alamin may be inscribed, and especially after the final word of the Qur’anic text, al-nas, when the words of praise Allahu akbar are frequently added.  While it is not unknown to find the addition of amin at the end of Surat al-Fatihah in Qur'an manuscripts worldwide, the longer phrases are rarely encountered.

Surat al-Fatihah, followed by the words amin rabb al-'alamin. Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 16033, ff. 1v-2r
Surat al-Fatihah, followed by the words amin rabb al-'alamin. Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 16033, ff. 1v-2r  noc

Final lines of the Qur’anic text, followed by the words Allahu akbar, in the same Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 16033, f. 500r
Final lines of the Qur’anic text, followed by the words Allahu akbar, in the same Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 16033, f. 500r  noc

The divisions of the text into Qur’an into thirty parts of equal length (juz’, plural ajza’), and sub-divisions thereof, is an important navigational aid in Qur’an manuscripts all over the Islamic world, especially since manuscript Qur’ans generally did not bear page, surah or verse numbers.  Most Daghistani Qur’ans bear marginal ornaments marking each juz’, with further ornaments for half (nisf), quarter (rub‘) and eighths (thumn) of each juz’. Other marginal annotations, commonly found in many Qur’ans, are the letter ‘ayn to indicate ruku’ or places for genuflection, and the word sajdah, indicating places for prostration.  But so far unique to Daghistani Qur’ans appears to be the marginal annotation wird, which perhaps might be understood to mark specific portions of the Qur’an for devotional recitation associated with Sufism.

Beginning of Surat al-BaqarahBL Or.15955  f. (1)
Beginning of Surat al-Baqarah, annotated in the margin al-juz’ al-awwal, and with the ornamental surah heading extending horizontally in the margin. Note the strong, bold script of the Qur’anic text, contrasting with the characteristic small backward-sloping cursive hand of the note at the bottom of the left-hand page. The marginal annotation in red on the left-hand page reads wird. The illuminated panel at the top of each page includes typically Daghistani motifs with ‘eyelets’. Qur’an, Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or. 15955, ff. 4v-5r  noc

Many of these Daghistani Qur’ans are large manuscripts, written on burnished paper of Russian manufacture, as evidenced in watermarks or embossed factory stamps. Bindings are usually plain and relatively ‘rustic’ in appearance, of dark brown leather without envelope flaps. Simple tooled frame lines are often joined by straight lines along the horizontal, vertical and diagonal axes, with stamped corner pieces and central medallions.  Particularly characteristic is the frequent use of small circular stamps along the ruled axes.

Two major programmes are currently digitising manuscripts in Dagestan: the Factum Foundation has been working with the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography (IHAE) in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, to digitise the manuscript collections held in the IHAE, while a British Library Endangered Archives Programme project 'Digitising Dagestan's Manuscript Heritage: Manuscripts from the Library of 'Alī al-Ghumūqī (1878-1943)' is currently underway (EAP957).

Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts in the British Library, 18th-19th centuries
(Fully digitised manuscripts have been hyperlinked)

Or. 15605, Qur’an
Or. 15913, Qur’an
Or. 15955, first volume of a two-volume Qur’an
Or. 16033, Qur’an
Or. 16058, Qur’an, 1821
Or. 16127, Qur’an, 1777
Or. 16595, second volume of a two-volume Qur’an
Or. 16759, selections from the Qur’an
Or. 16760, selections from the Qur’an
Or. 16771, second volume of a two-volume Qur’an

Further reading

Blog: From Caucasia, not from Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur'ans with spurious colophons

A.T. Gallop, From Caucasia to Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans and the Islamic manuscript tradition in Brunei and the southern Philippines. I-II.  Manuscripta Orientalia, 14 (1), June 2008, pp. 32-56; 14 (2), December 2008, pp. 3-20.
A. Shikhsaidov, Muslim treasures of Russia.  II: Manuscript collections of Daghistan.  Part II,  Manuscripta Orientalia,  13.1 ( 2007), pp. 25-61.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

08 August 2019

Emanating light: Illumination in Islamic manuscripts

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Without the ability to travel time it may forever be impossible to restage the medieval and early-modern viewing conditions of Islamic manuscripts. Whereas in paintings books are often shown being enjoyed outdoors, architecture can offer insights into the experience of manuscripts indoors.

image from britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk
Fig. 1: Mullah holding a book. Bijapur, c. 1610 (British Library, J.25, 14). Public domain

Consider the wholly illuminated central prayer niche (miḥrāb) at the Jāmi‘ Masjid of Bijapur in Deccan India (mosque: 1576; miḥrāb: 1636) (fig. 2). The entire niche is covered with calligraphy and micro-architectural details that are a mise en abyme within the mosque. Hanging lamps and manuscripts that likely represent the Qur’ān fill smaller niches at the dado level flanking both sides of the central niche. The books bear gilt bindings and the lamps have delicate golden tassels that accentuate their light-giving quality. The simple juxtaposition of lamps and books reminds us that the viewers of these manuscripts did not encounter them under the harsh lighting of today’s modern libraries. In an assessment of illumination, the problem of light is inescapable.

IMG_0325
Fig. 2: Detail of Miḥrāb of the Great Mosque of Bijapur, 1636. Photograph: Vivek Gupta

Generally, manuscript illumination is a practice where reflective substances have been applied to the surfaces of books. These surfaces include the binding, support (paper, parchment), and the edges of the support. While illumination is most commonly associated with gold, other metals including silver and tin are also used to create lustre. I refer here to gold as shorthand, but the material was in fact a liquid gold or alloy that was malleable to various surfaces and showed a variety of hues. This material can be flattened, painted, scattered, and pricked to create different effects on the surface of a support (fig. 3).

Fig2a

Figs. 3a and 3b: Shamsah (sunburst) and Heading of the Kulliyāt-i Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī, 1517 (British Library Add. 21104). Public domain

Fig2b

Illumination occurs everywhere on the page: its edges, borders, line rulings (jadval), rosettes (shamsahs), frontispieces (sarlawḥs), headpieces (‘unvāns), headings, interlinear space, the writing itself, and even the edges (fig. 4). There is no authoritative handbook for these terms in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, etc., and this nomenclature has evolved with convention. For example, the term ‘unvān has caused some confusion. The word literally denotes ‘title,’ and therefore I have used it for headpiece. In the British Library’s Persian manuscript catalogue edited by Rieu, ‘unvān denotes anything from illuminated headpiece to frontispiece (single or double page) to heading. Beyond references to illuminators (mudhahhib), the practice of illumination (tadhhīb), other words formed with the Arabic root dh-h-b or the Persian word zar, the textual record offers remarkably little prescriptive terminology for illumination. Even less defined are the names for particular illuminated patterns. While some of these patterns have analogues in architectural ornament, they do not always seamlessly translate to book decoration. For this reason, one safe compromise is to use English words, yet this can often be dissatisfying.

Fig3
Fig. 4: Gilded edge of manuscript, Kulliyāt-i Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī, 1517 (British Library Add. 21104). Public domain

Regardless of the lack of an established technical vocabulary, illumination and light (nūr) are everywhere in Islamic art and architecture. This is best attested by the Qur’anic Light verse (24:35) that begins, "God is the light [nūr] of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His light is a niche [mishkāt] wherein is a lamp [miṣbāḥ]," which frequently graces miḥrābs. Widespread lamp imagery such as that found in Bijapur’s Jāmi‘ Masjid also alludes to it. When books like the Qur’an or poetry reflected light through their illumination, this took on a divine significance. Through technologies such as multi-spectral imaging it may be possible to recover how premodern manuscripts looked by candlelight and evaluate the effects of how different lighting changed the experience of these books. Collaborations between architectural historians and scientists have started to reveal how sites such as the Mosque of Córdoba looked when lit with early Islamic glass lamps (Kider, Fletcher, Yu, Holod, Chamlers, and Badler, 2009).

Fig4
Fig. 5: Ascension (mi‘rāj) of the Prophet forming the sarlawḥ (frontispiece) of the Khamsah (Quintet) of Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī, 1571 (British Library Add. 22699). Public domain

In painting, illumination has been applied to nearly all forms. Fire, the sun, skies, and halos are popular gold elements. In her several articles and books on images of the Prophet Muhammad, Christiane Gruber has demonstrated how this tradition evolved. On the double-page frontispiece of the Khamsah (Quintet) of Amīr Khusraw Dihlavī dated 1571 from Safavid Qazvin (Fig. 5), gold is deployed profusely in a scene showing the Prophet’s ascension (mi‘rāj). In the flowering cartouches in the borders, the swirling clouds, and the fire they cast upon the Prophet and his steed Burāq, this page is fully illuminated. The dramatic interplay of these gold swirls and lapis blue surface would have created a startling effect especially if this page were viewed in low light. In experiencing the open book, the light of Muhammad (nūr Muḥammad) would have certainly shone onto the viewer.

Fig5
Figure 5: Shrine of Aḥmad Shāh (r. 1422–1436), Ashtur, Bidar. Photograph: Vivek Gupta

The study of book illumination should be placed in an expanded visual context that also includes architecture. In an early fifteenth-century Deccan shrine/tomb initially studied by Helen Philon (2000), I later drew comparisons between its domed apex and specific Indian maṇḍalas or yantras that Philon previously compared to Islamic talismanic bowls as well. Yet, the entirety of the shrine is covered in gold illumination. One of the clearest comparisons between the apex and a manuscript would be an illuminated shamsah or starburst. The completely calligraphed golden dome when lit with lamps would reflect light onto visitors below.

Illumination in Islamic manuscripts thus is no simple matter. Here, I have tried to make its obvious connection to light both practically and spiritually. While the majority of my research for the British Library has involved developing a method to catalogue illumination in Persian manuscripts (ca. 100 manuscripts completed), I do sometimes imagine the buildings and spaces in which they once were read, enjoyed, and seen. For, illumination allowed books to emanate light.

With thanks to Umberto Bongianino, Eleanor Sims and Ursula Sims-Williams.

Use #BL_IslamicIllum to share your favourite examples of illumination at the library and follow @_nainsukh for more!

Vivek Gupta, SOAS University of London, History of Art and Archaeology; British Library PhD placement
 ccownwork


Further reading:

Akimushkin, Oleg F. and Anatol A. Ivanov. 1979. “The Art of Illumination.” In The Arts of the Book in Central Asia, 14th-16th Centuries, ed. Basil Gray, London: Serindia, 35-57.

Brend, Barbara. 2015. “The Management of Light in Persian Painting.” In God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth: Light in Islamic Art and Culture, eds. Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair, New Haven: Yale University Press, 198-229.

Gruber, Christiane. 2019. The Praiseworthy One: the Prophet Muhammad in Islamic texts and images. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Waley, Muhammad Isa. 1997. “Illumination and its Function in Islamic Manuscripts.” In Scribes et manuscrits du Moyen-Orient, eds. François Déroche and Francis Richard, Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 87-112.

Wright, Elaine. 2018. Lapis and gold: exploring Chester Beatty’s Ruzbihan Qur’an. London: Chester Beatty Library in association with Ad Ilissvm.

01 August 2019

From Caucasia, not from Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans with spurious colophons

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Over the past two decades, a number of unusual and impressive Qur’an manuscripts have come to light, some with colophons recording places of production in the Brunei-southern Philippines zone. This corpus of manuscripts was introduced and discussed in detail in my 2008 article ‘From Caucasia to Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans and the Islamic manuscript tradition in Brunei and the southern Philippines’, published in the St. Petersburg-based journal Manuscripta Orientalia. In that study, I presented 14 Qur’an manuscripts with a shared and highly distinctive codicological profile, six of which had colophons recording Southeast Asian toponyms.

Opening pages of a Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800 (written on Russian watermarked paper dated 1795), but with a colophon stating the manuscript was copied by Zayn al-Din in Sabah, part of the kingdom of Brunei, in AH 1150 (AD 1737/8). British Library, Or 15913, ff. 2v-3r
Opening pages of a Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800 (written on Russian watermarked paper dated 1795), but with a colophon stating the manuscript was copied by Zayn al-Din in Sabah, part of the kingdom of Brunei, in AH 1150 (AD 1737/8). British Library, Or 15913, ff. 2v-3r Noc

Beginning of S. al-Shura (Q. 42), called here S. al-Awliya', Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800. British Library, Or 15913, ff. 220v-221r
Beginning of S. al-Shura (Q. 42), called here S. al-Awliya', Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800. British Library, Or 15913, ff. 220v-221r Noc

It was through the publications and kind advice of Prof. Amri Shikhsaidov that I had been able to identify all these ‘Brunei-Philippines’ Qur’ans as deriving from the manuscript culture of Daghistan, in the Caucasus region of Russia.  But how could the Southeast Asian colophons be accounted for? From an examination of the historical record, I concluded that there were just enough traces of linkages - for example, a Daghistani scholar in Mecca in the late 19th century is known to have taught Southeast Asian Muslims - to imagine “a historical, theological and cultural contex within which the prospect of a Daghistani scribe producing a Qur’an in the Brunei-southern Philippines zone in the 18th or early 19th century is logically plausible, without, it must be admitted, a single piece of firm supporting evidence from Southeast Asia itself, other than the colophons of the six Qur’an manuscripts” (Gallop 2008: 49). At this point, I also faced up squarely to consider the question of forgery, and in particular, whether the colophons may have been tampered with or added to at some subsequent date, but on the basis of a close visual examination, concluded that there was no reason to doubt the authenticity of the colophons. 

Double decorated frames and monumental calligraphy marking the beginning of S. Maryam (Q. 19), in a Qur'an manuscript from Daghistan, ca. 19th century, but which includes a colophon mentioning al-Filibbin (the Philippines). British Library, Or. 16058, ff. 274v-275r
Double decorated frames and monumental calligraphy marking the beginning of S. Maryam (Q. 19), in a Qur'an manuscript from Daghistan, ca. 19th century, but which includes a colophon mentioning al-Filibbin (the Philippines). British Library, Or. 16058, ff. 274v-275r Noc Beginning of S. al-Zukruf (Q. 43), with calligraphically dramatic presentation of the first letters ha-mim, in a Qur'an from Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 438v-439r
Beginning of S. al-Zukruf (Q. 43), with calligraphically dramatic presentation of the first letters ha-mim, in a Qur'an from Daghistan, ca. 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 438v-439r Noc

Very soon after the publication of my 2008 article, however, I arrived at the opposite conclusion, namely that the colophons linking these Daghistani manuscripts to Southeast Asia must all be spurious (but very expertly done!) recent additions.  One major problem that I faced in 2008 was the lack of authentic comparative material, for not a single Qur’an manuscript from the Philippines or Brunei had then been published. But over the past decade, 17 Qur’an manuscripts from Mindanao have now been documented, held both in the Philippines (Kawashima 2012) and in U.S. collections (Gallop 2011).  All of these Mindanao Qur’ans relate to broader Southeast Asian schools of manuscript art, but display no artistic or codicological linkages at all with the Daghistani Qur’ans. Another factor which tipped the already tenuous balance of probability was the relentlessly increasing number of such Qur’an manuscripts emerging onto the market.

Decorated frames marking the start of S. al-Kahf (Q. 18) in a Qur'an manuscript from Mindanao, southern Philippines, ca. 18th-19th century. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, E232848BDecorated frames marking the start of S. al-Kahf (Q. 18) in a Qur'an manuscript from Mindanao, southern Philippines, ca. 18th-19th century. Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, E232848B

Thus far, my conclusions had been based purely on contextual evidence. Fortunately, with the assistance of Prof. Haida Liang, Head of Imaging and Sensing for Archaeology, Art history and Conservation (ISAAC) at the School of Science and Technology, Nottingham Trent University (NTU), I was recently able to test my hypothesis scientifically. On 14 February 2018, two Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts in the British Library with Southeast Asian colophons (Or 15913 and Or 16058, both now fully digitised) underwent multispectral imaging by my BL colleague imaging scientist Dr Christina Duffy, and the resulting images were then analysed by Liang’s MA student Luke Butler and research fellow Dr Sotiria Kogou at ISAAC.

Or 16058 is a Qur'an manuscript written in a bold, confident hand with the calligraphic verve and even swagger typical of the Daghistani tradition, on Russian paper with a variety of embossed stamps in Cyrillic script of the paper-making factories (for example, Fabriki / Nasledekov / Sumkino / No.7 on f. 296r).  The colophon on f.546r is dated duhā Rabi‘ al-āwal 1237 (midday in November/December 1821) and mentions the name Mūsā bin Muhammad al-Ra’īs al-Jakkī al-Hakārī and the al-Jakki al-Hakari mosque in the Philippines (masjid al-Jakkī al-Hakārī bi-Filibbīn). In this manuscripts, multispectral imaging of the colophon, written in black ink, did not deliver significant results in terms of any differentiation with the black ink of the surrounding or preceding text.

Final pages of a Qur'an, Daghistan, 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 545v-546rFinal pages of a Qur'an, Daghistan, 19th century. British Library, Or 16058, ff. 545v-546r Noc

Detail of the colophon mentioning the al-Jakki al-Hakari mosque in the Philippines (masjid al-Jakkī al-Hakārī bi-Filibbīn). British Library, Or 16058, f. 546rDetail of the colophon mentioning the al-Jakki al-Hakari mosque in the Philippines (masjid al-Jakkī al-Hakārī bi-Filibbīn). British Library, Or 16058, f. 546r Noc

The second manuscript, Or. 15913, yielded more spectacular results (as first reported in Gallop 2017). This manuscript is written on Russian laid paper, watermarked with the date 1795 and Cyrillic letters BUFSAGP, standing for bumashnaia uglichskaia fabrika soderzhatelia Aleksandra Grigor’evicha Pereiaslavtseva, a paper factory in Uglich, north of Moscow.  On the final page a colophon statement, set within an illuminated panel, reads kataba hādhā al-mukarram Zayn al-Dīn fī ?Ahūmū fī madinat fī Sabah min al-mamālik al-Burūnawiyyah fī Ramadān sanat khamsīn wa-alf <wa-mi’at>, ‘This was written by the honoured Zayn al-Dīn in ?Ahūmū in a town in Sabah, one of the kingdoms of Brunei, in Ramadan of the year one thousand and fifty <and one hundred>’, giving a date (1150 AH=1737/8 AD) which postdates the date of manufacture of the paper. 

Following analysis of the multispectral images, while the pigments surrounding the colophon appear to be identical with those elsewhere on the page to the naked eye, the near infrared (1050nm) band image shows a clear difference. As explained by the ISAAC team, both the application of principal component analysis (PCA) and the independent component analysis (ICA) on the spectral images, and the spectral comparison between the green areas in the colophon and those elsewhere on the page, show a clear difference in the material composition, and these results support the suggestion that the colophon panel was added to the manuscript at a later date. While spectral imaging cannot give a firm dating for this later addition, it does confirm that the colophon is not an integral part of the original manuscript.

Fig.20-BL Or.15913  f. (28)
Final page of a Qur'an manuscript, Daghistan, ca. 1800. Set into a decorative panel at the bottom is the colophon stating that the manuscript was copied in Sabah, part of Brunei. British Library, Or 15913, f. 277v Noc
Following multispectral imaging, independent component analysis (ICA) of the green pigment indicates clearly that the colophon panel was not contemporary with the other decorated elements of the manuscript, despite appearing identical to the naked eye. British Library, Or 15913, f. 277v
Following multispectral imaging, independent component analysis (ICA) of the green pigment indicates clearly that the colophon panel was not contemporary with the other decorated elements of the manuscript, despite appearing identical to the naked eye. British Library, Or 15913, f. 277v

In the continuing absence of any other supporting evidence from within the Southeast Asian manuscript tradition, I would suggest that all other 'Southeast Asian' colophons in Daghistani manuscripts are equally spurious modern additions. This lengthy expose - made possible thanks to the wonderful collaboration of Haida Liang and her team at ISAAC, NTU - is important due to the incalculable threat posed to scholarship and our understanding of the Islamic manuscript traditions of Southeast Asia through the circulation of such 'rogue' manuscripts, skilfully implanted into areas with relatively poorly-studied writing cultures, and from which few manuscripts have ever been published.

Moreover, it is ironic to note that although the Southeast Asian colophons were evidently added for commercial reasons to enhance the perceived monetary value of these manuscripts, the Daghistani Qur'ans themselves are in fact intrinsically valuable as fine examples of an impressive but little-known Islamic calligraphic tradition from the Caucasus, and are worthy of being appreciated as such in their own right. Thus the British Library is now happy to find itself the proud possessor of an important research collection of ten Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts, and these will be explored in a future blog. 

References

A.T. Gallop, From Caucasia to Southeast Asia: Daghistani Qur’ans and the Islamic manuscript tradition in Brunei and the southern Philippines. I-II.  Manuscripta Orientalia, 14 (1), June 2008, pp.32-56; 14 (2), December 2008, pp.3-20.
A.T. Gallop, Qur’an manuscripts from Mindanao in U.S. Collections. Islamic manuscripts from the Philippines in U.S. collections: a preliminary listing, including two printed Qur’ansOur own voice, April 2011. 
A.T. Gallop, Fakes or fancies? some 'problematic' Islamic manuscripts from Southeast AsiaManuscript cultures, 2017, 10: 101-128.
Kawashima Midori (ed.), The Qur’an and Islamic manuscripts of Mindanao.  Tokyo: Institute of Asian Cultures, Sophia University, 2012.
A. Shikhsaidov, Muslim treasures of Russia.  II: Manuscript collections of Daghistan.  Part II,  Manuscripta Orientalia,  13.1 ( 2007), pp. 25-61.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia Ccownwork

With thanks to Christina Duffy, BL, and Haida Liang, Sotiria Kogou and Luke Butler, ISAAC, NTU

25 July 2019

Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo, British Library astronomy manuscripts in new visual forms

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The Iranian-American artist Pantea Karimi’s recent solo exhibition Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo at the Mercury 20 Gallery in Oakland, California, USA, was inspired by a study of several of the British Library’s scientific manuscripts which she reviewed during an extended visit in 2018. In this guest blog she speaks about this process and her work.

Two ancient manuscripts in the British Library drew my special attention and formed the foundation for my exhibition: the 17th century Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo’s De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris (Add MS 22786) and the 11th century Persian astronomer Biruni’s Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm (Or. 8349). My multimedia works in the exhibition explore an ancient and enduring fascination with the moon in science, culture and language, while simultaneously celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Lunar Mission.

Pages from Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm by al-Bīrūnī. British Library, Or. 8349, (from left to right) ff. 93r, 72v and 31v
Pages from Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm by al-Bīrūnī. British Library, Or. 8349, (from left to right) ff. 93r, 72v and 31v Noc

Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris by Galileo. British Library, Add MS 22786, (left and right) details from p. 63-64, (centre) p. 46
Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris by Galileo. British Library, Add MS 22786, (left and right) details from p. 63-64, (centre) p. 46   Noc

My completed works are large scale digital illustrations combining the abstract lunar diagrams with images of the Moon taken on my cell phone from a hill in California, as well as archival images from the Apollo 11 Lunar Mission in 1969. They are printed on fabric, and titled Moongraph, 01, 02, and 03. Other similarly inspired diagrams and images of the surface of the Moon have been combined with verses of Persian poetry and printed on circular pieces of metal in various sizes. They are presented in an installation on a grey geometric background that references the Moon and its phases. I believe that illustrating abstract ideas, as was done in these early diagrams, indicates how they were used as an important tool to visualize early science and pass down these ideas to later generations.

My exposure to these manuscripts from the early pioneers of astronomy has allowed my artistic interpretation of the science of astronomy. However, it was Persian poetry and its playful use of metaphor that first sparked my imagination and interest in the moon. As a child I was an avid reader of science fiction, especially Jules Verne novels translated into Persian.

The exhibition in many ways revisits my childhood obsession with the moon: from my compositions and illustrations, to the use of medieval Persian poetry that presents the moon metaphorically and symbolically. Verses by poets Attar Nishapuri, Nezami Ganjavi, and poet-scientist Omar Khayyam are included.

Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris and Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm showcase the phases of the Moon. The abstract version of the diagrams is by Pantea Karimi, 2019
Pages from De Mundi Sphæra Tractatus Autographus cum Figuris and Kitāb al-tafhīm li-awā’īl ṣinā‘at al-tanjīm showcase the phases of the Moon. The abstract version of the diagrams is by Pantea Karimi, 2019

Moongraph 01, 02, and 03, 2019, digital archival prints on fabric, 6 x 3.42 feet
Moongraph 01, 02, and 03, 2019, digital archival prints on fabric, 6 x 3.42 feet

Installation view at Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA, USA
Installation view at Mercury 20 Gallery, Oakland, CA, USA

TThe Infinite Moon, 2019, digital archival prints on metal, detail
The Infinite Moon, 2019, digital archival prints on metal, detail

From the Earth to the Moon, 2019, dome mirror, metal disks, cylindrical pipe, screws, the moon transparency and light. After the 1865 novel by Jules Verne.
From the Earth to the Moon, 2019, dome mirror, metal disks, cylindrical pipe, screws, the moon transparency and light. After the 1865 novel by Jules Verne.

Pantea Karimi’s work as a multi-disciplinary artist centers around visual representations and textual contents in medieval Persian and Arab and early modern European scientific manuscripts in five categories: mathematics, medicinal botany, anatomy, optics/astronomy and cartography. This recent research project has further broadened her interest in the long-term exchange of knowledge across these cultures. She specifically examines how illustrations in ancient scientific manuscripts played a role in communicating knowledge, and how the broader aesthetic considerations of science were closely linked to art. Her work collectively highlights the significance of visual elements in early science and invites the viewer to observe science and its history through the process of image-making. Karimi works with interactive installations, virtual reality, silkscreen and digital prints on various substrates. She moved from Iran to the UK to study and has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2005.

Countdown: Biruni-Galileo-Apollo will be exhibited in the Fall of 2019 at the Euphrat Museum of Art in De Anza College in Cupertino, California, USA.

Pantea Karimi Ccownwork

Pantea Karimi wishes to thank the British Library and staff for the opportunity to view and study the scientific manuscripts in their care.

For more information visit: www.panteakarimi.com
@panteakarimiart
@Karimipantea

04 July 2019

125 More Arabic Scientific Manuscripts in the Qatar Digital Library

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The second phase of the British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership digitisation project has now come to a successful close. You can find lists of the 80 manuscripts digitised during the first phase of the project here and here, and as we enter the project’s third phase, we are delighted to present an overview and complete list of the 125 Arabic scientific manuscripts digitised during the second phase.

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Diagram from al-Mawṣilī’s al-Durr al-naqī fī fann al-mūsīqī showing the interrelations between the musical modes, the letters of the alphabet, the four elements, the days of the week, the hours of the day, the celestial spheres and the signs of the zodiac (Add MS 23494, f. 6r)
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In this phase of the project, we have continued to digitise such classics of Arabic scientific literature as Ibn Sīnā’s al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb (i.e. Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine: Or 3343, Or 4946 and Or 6537), Ibn al-Haytham’s, Maqālah fī ṣūrat al-kusūf (e.g. Alhazen’s, Epistle on the Image of the Solar Eclipse: Or 5831), al-Rāzī’s, al-Ḥāwī fī al-ṭibb (i.e. Rhazes’ Liber continens or All-containing Book, Arundel Or 14), Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī’s Khulāṣat al-ḥisāb (Summa of Arithmetic: Delhi Arabic 1919) and Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī’s al-Tadhkirah fī al-hayʾah (Memoirs on Cosmology, Add MS 23394).

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Magic square (wafq) of 28 x 28 cells from the Dīwān al-ʿadad al-wafq (Delhi Arabic 110, ff. 108v-109r)
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We have also digitised manuscripts pertaining to the subsequent commentary traditions inspired by major texts such as those inspired by Ibn Sīnā’s al-Qānūn fī al-ṭibb (Or 5931, Or 3654, Or 14154, and IO Islamic 854), al-ʿĀmilī’s Khulāṣat al-ḥisāb (Delhi Arabic 1896 and IO Islamic 1362) and al-Ṭūsī’s al-Tadhkirah fī al-hayʾah (IO Islamic 1715, Or 13060, IO Islamic 1715, Delhi Arabic 1934, Add MS 7472, and Add MS 7477).

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Title page of al-Qaṣrānī’s Kitāb al-masāʾil dated 768/1367, with patron statement of the Mamluk amir Sayf al-Dīn Asandamur al-Nāṣirī (d. 769/1368) (Delhi Arabic 1916, vol. 1, f. 1r)
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Arabic continued to be a language of fertile scientific discourse well beyond the time period and geographic range traditionally associated with the so-called ‘Golden Age of Islam’. In order to illustrate this, we have digitised Arabic scientific manuscripts preserving texts written from the 9th to the 18th centuries that showcase the scientific endeavours of Islamicate peoples from Islamic Spain, across North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Near East, Anatolia, Iran, Central Asia and India.

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Title page of the Kitāb fī al-shaṭranj wa-manṣūbātihi wa-mulaḥih on which the seal of the Ottoman sultan Bāyezīd II (reg. 1481-1512) can be seen in the lower left corner (Add. MS 7515, f. 1r)
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You will find medical, astronomical and mathematical works produced in thirteenth-century Rasūlid Yemen (Or 3738, Or 9116, Delhi Arabic 1897); a commentary on Euclid’s Elements by al-Kūbanānī, court astronomer and mathematician to the Aq Qoyunlu sultan Abū al-Muẓaffar Ya‘qūb ibn Uzun Ḥasan (reg. 1478-90: Or 1514); Ottoman works such as, a medical text by Ibn Sallūm, personal physician to the Ottoman sultan Mehmet IV (reg. 1648-87), which responds to the ‘new (al)chemical medicine’ (al-ṭibb al-jadīd al-kīmāwī) of Paracelsus and his followers ( Or. 6905) and a book of astronomical tables for Cairo by the eighteenth-century astronomer Riḍwān Efendi al-Razzāz (Or 14273); and seventeen manuscripts from the British Library's Delhi collection , which cast light on the collection, copying and production of Arabic scientific literature in Mughal India.

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Astrolabe quadrant produced in 1256/1840-1 and signed by its maker, Aḥmad ibn Ibrāhīm al-Sharbatlī (Or. 2411/2, Side A)
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We have also expanded the boundaries of what we consider to be ‘scientific’ literature to include related subjects such as zoology, veterinary medicine and animal husbandry (Delhi Arabic 1949, Add MS 21102, Add MS 23417, Or 15639 and Or 8187) and two works on chess (Add MS 7515 and Or 9227). Hoping to go beyond what is expected from our digitisation project, we have even digitised a scientific instrument: a quadrant we discovered boxed with a earlier manuscript of a user’s manual for such a device (Or 2411/2 ).

Clavius
Bio-bibliographical note in the rough draft of an Arabic translation of Gnomonices libri octo by Christophorus Clavius (d. 1537 or 38). The translation is by Rustam Beg al-Ḥārithī al-Badakhshī ibn Qubād Beg (d. 1705) and the note is by his son, Mīrzā Muḥammad – more on this in our earlier post East-West knowledge transfer in Mughal India (IO Islamic 1308, f. 1v)
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3810
Colophon of a copy of Saʿīd ibn Hibat Allāh’s al-Mughnī fī tadbīr al-amrāḍ wa-maʿrifat al-ʿilal wa-al-aʿrāḍ produced at Baghdad 1172 (IO Islamic 3810, f. 105r)
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We are currently finalising the scope of the third phase of the British Library and Qatar Foundation Partnership, which will include such highlights as early copies of the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, a large and early manual of dream interpretation and the British Library’s second oldest Arabic scientific manuscript (click here to see the oldest). Keep your eye on the Qatar Digital Library to see the newest manuscripts as they are digitised and posted.

For a complete list of the 125 manuscripts together with hyperlinks to the images download Qatar-scientific-mss-phase-2

Bink Hallum, Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership
 ccownwork

27 June 2019

Shubbak at the British Library, 30 June 2019

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On 30 June the Shubbak festival of contemporary Arab culture returns to the British Library with a day of literary events. The British Library has hosted the festival previously in 2015 and 2017. Recordings from these events can be accessed through the British Library’s Soundcloud (here and here). This year, in addition to panels on new feminist and queer writing, and historical fiction, the festival will also features spotlight sessions on specific authors, and two creative installations by Moroccan artist Aïcha El Beloui and Saudi design practice Bricklab. Details of the programme can be found below and tickets can be purchased through the British Library website.

THE ENDLESS WAVE: New Feminist Writing, hosted by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey
12 pm–1.15 pm

What does it mean to be an Arab feminist in 2019? How does the legacy of previous generations intersect with current creative practice and globalised movements like #MeToo? Three artists using diverse artforms discuss and perform their work. French-Moroccan journalist, commentator and Prix Goncourt-winning novelist Leïla Slimani‘s recent nonfiction work on Moroccan women’s sexuality generated much debate. Award-winning Egyptian graphic novelist and web comic artist Deena Mohamed is the creator of the veiled female superhero Qahera. Badriah al Beshr is a Saudi journalist, chatshow host and novelist known for tackling women’s issues.

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(Left to right): Lullaby by Leïla Slimani ; translated from the French by Sam Taylor (London : Faber & Faber, 2018). BL, H.2018/.9220. Shubbīk lubbīk : qiṣṣah muṣawwarah by Deena Mohamed (Cairo : 2017). BL, YP.2018.b.610. Mother of all pigs : a novel by Malu Halasa (Los Angeles, CA : The Unnamed Press, [2017]). BL, YD.2019.a.3105.

SPOTLIGHT: New Arab Writing from London with Malu Halasa, hosted by Jo Glanville
1.30–2 pm

Malu Halasa has co-edited five anthologies on Middle East culture and politics. Her debut novel, Mother of All Pigs, unveils contemporary life in Jordan, as one family confronts its secrets over the course of a weekend’s festivities. At times witty and energetic, compassionate and awe-inspiring, an Arabic translation is forthcoming in 2020. Malu Halasa reads from and discusses her novel and practice.

BOLD VOICES: New Queer Writing , hosted by Puck Khalaf
2.15–3.30pm

Building on Shubbak’s 2017 inaugural queer panel, Bold Voices brings together a new range of artists at the cutting edge of LGBT+ creative expression. Three artists from this exciting and defiant scene present their approach ranging from comics to storytelling and activism. From Beirut comes poet, playwright and actress Dima Mikhayel Matta, the founder of Beirut’s storytelling platform Cliffhangers. Syrian Swedish novelist Khaled Alesmael's Selamlik, a homoerotic depiction of Syria, has sold over 2,000 copies in Sweden. Joseph Kai, whose comics centre around the unspoken, marginalization and gender, is editor at the Lebanese collective Samandal.

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(Left to right): Revenge by Samandal (Paris : Studio Fidèle, 2019). Kursī : riwāyah by Dima Wannous (Beirut: Dār al-Ādāb, 2009). BL, YP.2012.a.2398. 

SPOTLIGHT: new Syrian fiction with Dima Wannous, hosted by Bidisha
4–4.30 pm

Damascus-born Dima Wannous is a writer and cultural journalist. She has written for multiple Arab and international newspapers, managed the cultural section of the online magazine Modon, and hosted a cultural TV show from 2008-18. Her second novel, The Frightened Ones, focuses on the notion of fear and how central it is to dictatorship. Shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2018, the novel is about to be published in Elisabeth Jaquette’s English translation. Dima Wannous reads from and discusses her novel and practice.

SPOTLIGHT: New Kurdish fiction with Bakhtiyar Ali, host by Bonnie Gree
4.45–5.15 pm

Bakhtiyar Ali is a prominent Iraqi Kurdish novelist and literary critic, essayist and poet, awarded the prestigious Nelly Sachs Prize in 2017. His novel I Stared at the Night of the City was a bestseller in Iraqi Kurdistan and made history as the first Kurdish novel ever to be published in English translation. He is joined by his translator Kareem Abdulrahman, currently completing the translation of Ali’s next novel The Last Pomegranate, to read an exclusive extract and to discuss contemporary Kurdish literature in the Arab region and beyond.

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(Left to right): I stared at the night of the city by Bakhtiyar Ali ; translated from the Kurdish by Kareem Abdulrahman (Reading : Periscope, 2016). BL, H.2018/8208. Ruqaya Izzidien. al-Nabīdhah : riwāyah by Inaam Kachachi (Beirut : Dār al-Jadīd, 2017). BL, YP.2018.a.5596.

TELLING THE PAST: Contemporary Arab Historical Novels, hosted by Laleh Khalili
5.30–6.45 pm

Many Arab writers create historical novels to recast fraught histories. What are their motivations and methods in approaching history through the creative lens? Twice shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Iraqi writer Inaam Kachachi‘s novels focus on contemporary Iraqi history. Iraqi-Welsh writer Ruqaya Izzidien‘s debut novel features Iraqi, Welsh and English characters in WWI Baghdad. Sudanese IPAF-shortlisted author Hammour Ziada‘s latest historical novel examines cycles of oppression through twentieth-century Sudan. Palestinian novelist Rabai al-Madhoun‘s IPAF winning Destinies, Concerto of the Holocaust and the Nakba is a four-part epic of the Palestinian exodus and right to return.

Installations:

Aïcha El Beloui: Morocco

Gathering personal narratives through interviews, researching the sound archives in the British Library and walking through West London’s streets, the artist discovered the agreements between Morocco, Spain and France as the catalysts to Moroccan presence in the city.

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Ces cités: Marseille 2018 by Aïcha El Beloui

Drawing from this material she will create one of her distinctive maps. Seemingly simply rendered in black and white, they are filled with richly textured incident and associative connections. Charting routes between Morocco and London, and recognising original dreams and aspirations as well as today’s experiences of second and third generation young people, the artist invites the viewer to reflect on themes of citizenship and belonging.

Aïcha El Beloui’s map will be available in paper formats, digitally and as an installation, travelling to different sites across the city.

Aïcha El Beloui is a Casablanca-based illustrator, graphic designer, and creative director. Trained as an architect, she worked originally for UNESCO in heritage preservation. She regularly works with communities to discover a neighbourhood and filters her observations into maps and illustrations.

Bricklab: Geographical Child’s Play

Bricklab, the designers of the first Saudi pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale, create a new pop-up sculpture especially for Shubbak. 22 brightly coloured units equalling in number the 22 states of the Arab League are arranged in different constellations to offer new viewpoints of geographies, nations and the power to imagine other realities. No unit can stand on its own, but has to be grafted onto others. Some constellations seem hierarchical, others more egalitarian. Geographical Child’s Play conjures up poignant and surprising alignments and dependencies. Stretching nearly 10m as a line or barely 3m as a circle, Geographical Child’s Play is Bricklab’s most public and engaging sculpture so far.

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Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz.

The bright colours and low level hint at nursery furniture or playground equipment. It is an invitation to imagine geopolitics through the lens of play and a deliberately naïve hope.

Established in Jeddah in 2015 Bricklab (Abdulrahman and Turki Gazzaz) quickly established itself as one of the most dynamic current design practices in Saudi Arabia. Their work has been shown at 21,39 Saudi Art Week, Alserkal Avenue in Dubai and Venice Architecture Biennale. In 2018 they took part in the British Council and V&A International Designers Workshop.

Daniel Lowe, Curator for Arabic Ccownwork

#Shubbak2019
@shubbakfestival

24 June 2019

Naskhi-divani: a little-recognized sultanate script

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Today's guest blog is by Vivek Gupta, a historian of Islamic and South Asian art who is completing his PhD thesis “Wonder Reoriented: Manuscripts and Experience in Islamicate Societies of South Asia (ca. 1450–1600),” at SOAS University of London, History of Art and Archaeology. Vivek is currently based at the British Library for a research placement on illumination in Persian Manuscripts.

The art of the book in sultanate India, particularly of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, is notable for its eclecticism. Because of the sultanates’ evolving political terrain, the search for a coherent narrative of manuscript patronage and production is a challenge. In comparison to painting, one relatively overlooked feature of sultanate books is calligraphy. Here, we examine a script found in sultanate manuscripts that scholars have started to call naskhī-dīvānī.

Fig 1_1500
Fig. 1. Qur’ān, Sūrat al-Falaq, India, ca. 1450-1500, 26.5 x 18.4 cm (BL Add. 5551, f. 189r). Public domain

Appearing in the late fourteenth century, two styles of writing seldom seen outside of India are bihārī and naskhī-dīvānī. Bihārī is characterized by thick horizontal strokes specifically in terminating letters and thin verticals; diacritical markers are horizontal, rather than at a slant. In the Indian Qur’an manuscript (ca. 1450-1500) shown in Fig. 1, bihārī is in black. Bihārī evidently associates the script with the northeastern Indian region of Bihar[1], but the name remains a mystery, especially as it appears far beyond Bihar in places such as Bengal and the Deccan; by early-modern times it also reached Ethiopia. The British Museum’s catalogue, published in 1879, describes the script in the example here as “large and angular Naskhi” and dates it to the fourteenth century[2]. The name for this script is also unresolved in the catalogue of Khuda Bakhsh Library, Patna. The first volume of 1918 describes the script of a bihārī Qur’an as thuluth-i kūfī. The third volume of 1965 calls the script baḥr, which means ‘sea,’ while the fourth volume of 1995 designates it as khaṭṭ-i bihār (bihārī calligraphy)[3].

Even less understood than bihārī is naskhī-dīvānī. Naskhī-dīvānī, as the name implies, is a combination of a standard naskh and a dīvānī script often used for chancellery documents. In her pioneering research coining naskhī-dīvānī as a calligraphic style, Éloïse Brac de la Perrière describes it as such:

The bar of the kāf often terminates with a small hook, as with the alif that features a lower tail curving left of its vertical line. Some letters like the kāf are almost angular, however the ḥā’ and khā’ in the initial position and the final ligature of the yā’ with letters preceding it have a rounded appearance with a loop; the dāl is large and open[4]

As seen here in red, naskhī-dīvānī is often used in interlinear Persian translations of Qur’ans in bihārī script. It often appears in marginal glosses of such Qur’ans as well. Since it is frequently diminutive or paratextual to the bihārī script, it has a special affinity with bihārī. In many cases, the scribes responsible for both the bihārī text and naskhī-dīvānī paratext would have been the same individual.

One manuscript copied in a naskh script closely resembling a naskhī-dīvānī is an anthology of Persian poetry (Or.4110) assembled during the reign of the Sharqi Sultan Mubarak Shah of Jaunpur (r. 1399-1402). The manuscript is datable to the beginning of the fifteenth century. In these diagrams for reading poetry the script possesses the angularity of the naskhī-dīvānī and distinctive terminating letters (fig. 2). In the spiraling diagrams shown on the right we see a thick black stroke akin to the bihārī script. The orange and red floral decoration and blue roundels also are typical of bihārī Qur’āns. The craftsmen responsible for this manuscript thus were certainly familiar with the calligraphy and decorative programme of a bihārī manuscript.

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Fig. 2. Anthology of Persian Poetry, Jaunpur, India, beginning of the fifteenth century, folio: 37 x 26 cm (BL Or. 4110, ff. 153v-154r). Public domain

Beyond Arabic and Persian manuscripts, naskhī-dīvānī was also the leading script for the earliest Hindavi vernacular premākhyān, or story of love, the Chāndāyan (1379) of Mullāh Dā’ūd. This was a story told in a highly Sanskritized idiom that borrowed from Persian poetics. Although there has been no critical analysis of the paleography of the Chāndāyan manuscripts to date, it is clear that the script of the majority of these manuscripts is a naskhī-dīvānī adapted for the vernacular (fig. 3). Further, the layout of these texts borrows directly from Persian poetry collections (dīvāns). That these manuscripts were produced in a number of regions (Gujarat, Malwa, Delhi-Agra) over the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries attests to the spread of this script. Here, it is worth questioning whether or not the scribes of these vernacular manuscripts were the scribes of bihārī Qur’ans. If this were the case, this offers evidence of a multilingual literate culture in which trained scribes could produce manuscripts in varying scripts.

Fig 3b Fig 3b
Fig. 3. “The Breaking of Chāndā’s Pearl Necklace,” Chāndāyan of Maulānā Dā’ūd, Malwa, India, ca. 1520-40, folio: 24.4 x 14. cm (John Rylands Library Hindustani 1, ff. 132v-133r). Copyright University of Manchester

In addition to manuscripts of deluxe quality, naskhī-dīvānī appears in unillustrated and unilluminated books from the sultanate world. For example, a copy of the Tarjumah-i kitāb-i Bārāhī, the fourteenth-century Persian translation of Varāhamihira’s sixth-century Sanskrit encyclopedia the Bṛhatsaṁhitā, is inscribed in naskhī-dīvānī (fig. 4)[5]. We know the manuscript passed through the Deccan sultanate of Golkonda because it bears a seal of Muhammad Qutb Shah (r.1612-26), so it must date from before the end of his reign.

IO Islamic 1262_f1v
Fig.4. Preface, Tarjumah-i kitāb-i Bārāhī of ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Shams-i Tahānisārī, 29.3 x 16.2 cm (BL IO Islamic 1262, f.1v). Public domain

With the substantial and intriguing evidence of naskhī-dīvānī in Qur’ans, Hindavi poetry, and secular works, this script was widespread in a number of languages and genres. This opens up possible lines of inquiry about the scribes’ level of literacy in these languages. For the moment such questions remain unanswered although while it is clear that there are very few cohesive threads in the manuscript culture of sultanate India, naskhī-dīvānī may well prove to be a primary one.

Further reading:
Brac de la Perrière, Éloïse. “Bihârî et naskhî-dîwânî: remarques sur deux calligraphies de l’Inde des sultanats.” In Ecriture, calligraphie et peinture, Studia Islamica, eds. A.L. Udovitch et H. Touati, Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 2003, pp. 81-93.
— “Manuscripts in Bihari Calligraphy: Preliminary Remarks on a Little-Known Corpus.” Muqarnas 33 (2016): 63-90.
—, and Burési, Monique, eds. Le Coran de Gwalior: Polysémie d’un manuscrit à peintures. Paris: Éditions de Boccard, 2016.
Mirza, Sana. “The visual resonances of a Harari Qur’ān: An 18th century Ethiopian manuscript and its Indian connections.” Afriques 08 (2017): 1-25.
Siddiq, Mohammad Yusuf. “An Epigraphical Journey to an Eastern Land.” Muqarnas 7 (1990): 83-108.

With thanks to Emily Shovelton and Eleanor Sims

Vivek Gupta, SOAS University of London, History of Art and Archaeology
 ccownwork


[1] Brac de la Perrière, “Manuscripts in Bihari Calligraphy,” p. 64.
[2] Rieu, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum, vol. 1, p. 7.
[3] These catalogues were published from 1918-1995 and are collectively called Miftāḥ al-Kanūz al-Khafiyah.
[4] Brac de la Perrière, “Bihârî et naskhî-dîwânî,” 89. “La barre du kâf se termine souvent par un petit crochet, de même que l’alif est doté d’une queue inférieure placée à gauche du trait vertical de la lettre. Certaines lettres, comme le kâf sont presque anguleuses; a contrario, leâet le khâà l’intiale et la ligature du yâ final avec les lettres précédentes ont l’aspect arrondi d’une boucle; les dâl sont grands et ouverts.” I thank Hugo Partouche for checking my French translation.
[5] See Orthmann, "Tarjuma-yi kitāb-i Bārāhī (occult sciences),” for a description of this text.

20 June 2019

Islamic Painted Page: Growing a Database

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Today's post is by Stephen Serpell announcing the launch of the new version of his online database Islamic Painted Page, now hosted with the University of Hamburg. In a world where individual institutions still maintain their idiosyncratic approaches to locating and displaying digitised images, this resource is a major breakthrough.

Since its launch in 2013, Islamic Painted Page (IPP) has grown into a major online database of Islamicate arts of the book, with over 42,000 references to paintings, illuminations and bindings from over 270 collections around the globe – of which the British Library is one of the most important.

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IPP is found at www.islamicpaintedpage.com and it does two things. First, it enables users to locate and compare works worldwide using a single database, displaying images wherever possible; and second, it signposts users onward to more authoritative sources, with hotlinks direct to the specific image pages of collection websites where available, and page-specific references for printed publications.

The website enables users to search by picture description, collection, accession number, date, place of origin, manuscript title or author, or publication – or any combination of these. So it is possible, for example, to find with a single search 77 different interpretations of the famous scene where Khusrau sees Shirin bathing, with IPP itself showing images of 36 of them.

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4 out of 77: Five British Library versions of “Khusrau sees Shirin bathing” (BL Add. 6613, f.42r, IO Islamic 138, f.75r, Or. 2265, f.53v, Or. 2933, f.19v)

Or one could look into the development of non-figurative illumination and page decoration during the reign of Sultan Ḥusayn Bāyqarā in Herat, 1469-1506 (70 different results); or search under an accession number to locate reproductions of works not currently published online, such as the paintings from the Topkapi Royal Turkman Khamsah H762; or search by a particular classical author, for example to study the star charts in different manuscripts of the Ṣuwar al-kawākib of al-Ṣūfī. And one can even search the contents of a publication, perhaps to check if it contains relevant illustrations, or to cross-check for metadata that was left out of the printed text (IPP is good for filling in missing details).

IPP aims to help users find not just images of works, but also articles and commentaries about them; so its search results list all the publication references it holds on each item, with the collection website location topmost if one exists. This means that well-known works return multiple “hits” in a search; for example the Miʻraj painting in the British Library’s celebrated Khamsah of Shah Tahmasp (Or. 2265, f.195r) is one of the most-published of all Islamicate miniatures and comes up with 25 references. However very few works achieve such fame, and in fact the database currently holds about 42,500 references for its total of about 30,000 separate items - so on average, each item only appears in 1.4 publications.

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Multiply published: “The Miʻraj of the Prophet” from the Khamsah of Shah Tahmasp (BL Or. 2265 f.195r). Public Domain

This illustrates a further use of the database; its very large size means that it could be used as a starting point for statistical analysis, for example to chart the production of particular illustrated works against place of production or by date, or how the popularity of certain scenes has varied over time.

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Finding needles in haystacks: Islamic Painted Page, main search page

The database originated simply from one individual’s frustration over the difficulties of studying Islamicate miniature paintings and illuminations, since they are dispersed all over the planet and references to them are scattered throughout a daunting corpus of literature; and even though many are now published online, it can still be very laborious to find relevant links. This led to a personal database that soon grew to point where it seemed likely to be useful to others, if only it could be placed online. A grant from the Iran Heritage Foundation made the website possible in 2013 with an initial 12,300 entries. Subsequent support from the Islamic Manuscript Association in 2015 improved the website’s utility for manuscript studies, including proper attention to transliteration. By this time the database had already grown to 20,600 references and had built in item-specific links to VIAF, WORLDCAT and FIHRIST so that users can just click to find fuller, authoritative information on authors and works, print publications, and - for UK items - manuscript details. Needless to say, a private sideline had by then become a mega-hobby.

However the most exciting subsequent step has been adding actual images of the paintings, illuminations and bindings wherever possible. Copyright prevents the database from reproducing illustrations in printed works, but IPP also covers works published online; and in many cases this has enabled IPP to show images that have been published as Creative Commons or Public Domain, or where a collection has given special permission.


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Example search results (from a global search for “Khusrau sees Shirin bathing”)


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Flyout details for one result (from a global search for “Khusrau sees Shirin bathing”)

It was a particular pleasure in 2018 to receive permission to incorporate images for the British Library, since it houses one of the world’s most important collections of Islamicate manuscripts and has been digitizing many of its finest holdings. Together with coverage of 19 other collections, IPP is now able to display thumbnails and larger images for about 50% of its references so far; and it is the inclusion of images that transforms the usefulness of the site for most researchers. It should be stressed that every thumbnail and every flyout image in IPP acknowledges the collection source and provides a folio-specific weblink to the relevant collection webpage, together with a recommendation to proceed to the collection website for authoritative images and other details.

Along the way, IPP has had to confront some difficult issues. Users need to be able to search efficiently, especially if they are trying to find a painting of a particular scene; but this requires consistent descriptions, whereas different authorities give different titles to the same scene (eg Khusrau sees Shirin bathing; Khosrow spies Shirin bathing; Shirin bathes observed by Khusrau….). To help manage this, IPP uses just one consistent description for each scene, but also holds the corresponding alternative descriptions. This ensures that users who cannot find what they want among the “consistent descriptions” can still search among the “alternative descriptions” if necessary.

The price for this simple-sounding device is that IPP not only has to check for consistent titling across the entire database for every new entry, but also has to maintain entire sub-databases of descriptions listing every scene encountered in each of about 30 of the most popular painting cycles, such as those illustrating the Khamsah of Niẓāmī (where artists have represented over 300 different scenes), the Haft Awrang of Jāmī and the Shāhnāmah of Firdawsī (which extends to over 1,000 scenes and where the work of the Cambridge Shāhnāmah project must be fully acknowledged). Hobbyists, beware!

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Four scenes from the Shāhnāmah painting cycle (Royal Asiatic Society MS 239, ff. 7r, 16v, 32v, 44r)

Different authorities also ascribe different dates and places of origin to the same items. IPP respects this but it does result in inconsistent metadata between the relevant IPP references. And even authorities can make mistakes, or fail to provide essential details, and publications can suffer misprints; IPP has filled in a lot of missing accession numbers and corrected a lot of wrong ones.

IPP includes thousands of references to non-figurative illuminated pages and bindings, as well as covering figurative pictures; and an important upgrade is in hand to improve the detail of its 2,500 references to decorated Qurʼan pages.

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Non-figurative examples – bindings, illuminations, decoration (BL Add. 16561, Add. 18579, IO Islamic 843 f.34v, Or. 12988 f.2r)

IPP is an academic resource and its future clearly needs to lie with an academic institution, not with an individual. For that reason, about a year ago IPP began a relationship with the University of Hamburg’s Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures that aims to enrich the database’s features and extend the coverage of works published online as well as in print. One of the first fruits of this collaboration has been the re-launch of the IPP website hosted and supported by the University of Hamburg, with a new look and a number of improvements to the user interface.

Meanwhile the database continues to grow and it is planned to include more images, enlarge its coverage of collections and secondary sources from the Muslim world, and extend its geographical scope. In this way, it is hoped that IPP can act as a multi-disciplinary resource and assist not only art historians and manuscript scholars, but also contribute to digital humanities and wider cultural studies.

The author would like to thank Dr. Barbara Brend, Professor Charles Melville and Dr. Teresa Fitzherbert, as well as his own wife Elizabeth, without whose support, encouragement and patience Islamic Painted Page would never have come into being.

Stephen Serpell, Islamic Painted Page
Research Associate, Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC), University of Hamburg
stephen.serpell@uni-hamburg.de
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4547af8200c-pi