There come forth from them pearls, both large and small
January 24, 2011 9:08 AM   Subscribe

The Koran of Kansuh al-Ghuri is a 500 year old manuscript written on six foot square sheets of a silken, vellum-like fabric which is polished with smooth stones so that ink sits on the surface rather than being absorbed. It is considered "one of the finest, most lavishly illuminated and calligraphically significant Qur’an manuscripts from the late Mamluk period". Too fragile to be displayed, it is also missing two leaves that were discovered in Dublin's Chester Beatty Library in the 1970s. So a unified digitized edition is being prepared that will be freely available on the Internet for researchers. The process is being blogged here.
posted by Joe Beese (14 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fascinating and nifty. And wow, look at the size of that thing! Gorgeous.
posted by Gator at 9:19 AM on January 24, 2011


Gorgeous calligraphy. I guess I'd have to be blind not to see that.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:36 AM on January 24, 2011


[few comments removed - take up your GRARGRAR religion complaints in MetaTalk if that's all you have to say here. Other folks - sorry about that. Carry on.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:39 AM on January 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


This text is really amazing. The amount of care in the simple act of creating the surface that the ink was applied to is amazing to think about. Then the beauty of the artwork, and the attention to detail on top of that simply blow my mind.

Reading the blog, I particularly like the entry about the weird margin notes that are made throughout the document, in different handwritings, and that some correct the grammar of the text. It makes me think of all the useful margin notes I've seen in used books over the years, and the ones I leave myself in my own books.
posted by strixus at 9:44 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Beautiful.

The partially erased doodles made me laugh - someone must've got into a whole heap of trouble for that (and it shows how strong the universal urge to doodle can be).
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 10:00 AM on January 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


You really can't argue with the beauty of religious writing and architecture. (The outfits and shenanigans are another story.) Even though I consider religion to be communal insanity of the first order, I'm always glad to see works like this preserved/horrified when they're destroyed. And this certainly looks like some wonderful stuff.
posted by fartknocker at 10:02 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow. That's really cool.
posted by brundlefly at 10:03 AM on January 24, 2011


You really can't argue with the beauty of religious writing and architecture.

I dunno, I have seen some pretty ugly churches in my day (the Baroque and Rococo Periods make me especially queasy), and some pretty poorly produced manuscripts and calligraphy, but I agree with what I think is your sentiment -- when they are done well, and with care, they are amazing (especially when you realize how long they took -- I was looking at a Carolingian bible earlier this year that was part of a series that took some 18 years to complete).
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:17 AM on January 24, 2011


Is there some sort of religious symbolism to the fact that the ink sits on the paper or was it just done for the sake of doing it? Was there a whole tradition around this sort of thing?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:20 AM on January 24, 2011


Is there some sort of religious symbolism to the fact that the ink sits on the paper or was it just done for the sake of doing it? Was there a whole tradition around this sort of thing?

Burnishing was done to allow for ease of pen movement, and clear, non-blurred lines. Here's a modern Arabic calligrapher discussing the process:

The chosen instrument for writing Arabic script is the seasoned reed pen. The nib is cut to an angular chisel-edge and slit mid-way to facilitate the flow of ink. In right-to-left strokes, the pen is moved against the grain, often noisily. In this motion the pen is difficult to control, recalcitrant to an extraordinary degree.

Making a beautiful line requires a smooth, polished surface. Originally, scribal writing was on papyrus, making a smooth line impossible. Originally, too, calligraphy was done on vellum and parchment, which suited the heavy early scripts.

When paper was first used in the Islamic world, two problems had to be solved in order to accommodate the peculiarities of the Arabic script. First, the paper had to be smooth so the pen and ink could flow “like breath,” as it is said. Also, the paper had to be made less absorbent so the ink would not penetrate the surface and spread in the paper’s fibers. Both of these goals were achieved by the application of sizes and coatings and by burnishing the paper to a high gloss once it was dry. That is the “prime directive” of the paper preparer.
posted by zamboni at 10:30 AM on January 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


Zakariya is discussing paper calligraphy, but the principle remains the same.
posted by zamboni at 10:36 AM on January 24, 2011


If you like this, check out Poetry and Prayer: Islamic Manuscripts from the Walters Art Museum. It's a great introduction to a major project to digitize their collection of Islamic Manuscripts.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:53 AM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


That is a really gorgeous book. Wow.

The partially erased doodles made me laugh - someone must've got into a whole heap of trouble for that (and it shows how strong the universal urge to doodle can be).

There was another islamic book I remember that was simply stunning and had found it's way into a childeren's nursery - and was doodled and scribbled on as kids are apt to do. I can't find where that was right now.

I visited bookstore in Los Angeles and the dealer there showed me a collection of old erotic books, some of which were incredibly old. The crown jewel was lavishly illustrated book from ancient Persia.

Gosh, I love books.
posted by helmutdog at 11:15 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


thanks
posted by proneSMK at 1:54 AM on January 25, 2011


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