Art Moment: The Blue Qur’an c. 900

Leaf from the Blue Qur’an (c. 900), gold and silver on indigo-dyed parchment, 30.5 x 40.5 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

No more than three or four Qur’an manuscripts on coloured velium are known. Of them, this copy of the Muslim holy book is the most celebrated. The Blue Qu’ran is thought to have come from 10th century Tunisia in North Africa. The manuscript in its entirety would have comprise around 650 folios, but only about 18 of them are known to have survived.

A hugely expensive undertaking, the Blue Qur’an may have been commissioned by the then fast-rising Fatimid Dynasty as an endowment for the Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba at Kairouan in Tunisia. In the late 9th century, Byzantine embassies arrived in North Africa laden with luxurious gifts (including manuscripts) in an attempt to prevent renewed Fatimid campaigns against the Byzantine-held regions of Sicily. Among these gifts were Byzantine codices written in gold on parchments dyed with purple. The Blue Qur’an may have been written in emulation of these imperial gifts.

Details of the Kufic script

Like the earliest copies of the Qur’an produced in the late 7th century, the Blue Qur’an is written in Kufic, a handsome and strikingly angular script whose name derives from the town of Kufah in southern Iraq. The monumental inscriptions of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock are also in Kufic script.

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