Poetry and Prayer: Islamic Manuscripts from the Walters Art Museum

Poetry and Prayer

Islamic Manuscripts from the Walters Art Museum

Poetry Ritual Prayer Recitation Calligraphy Personal Piety Digital Books

W.552: Qur’an
Iraq (?), 9th century

This manuscript is a fragment of the Qur’an in the horizontal format on parchment. The text covers from chapter 6 (Sūrat al-an’ām), the end of verse 54, through chapter 9 (Sūrat al-tawba), verse 79. It was penned in an Early Abbasid script ("Kufic"), probably in the 3rd century AH / 9th CE. Chapter headings are in gold ink, and decorative verse markers indicate groups of five and 10 verses. Red dots indicate vocalization. The binding is late 13th century AH / 19th CE or later.

Parchment with ink, paint, and gold
W.552, acquired by Henry Walters

Folio 51a

Folio from an Islamic Manuscript

Folio 50b

Folio from an Islamic Manuscript

Until the 11th century, Qur’ans were written in an angular script with a rhythmic and strongly horizontal composition of letters and words. This script is known as kufic after the city of Kufa in central Iraq, despite the fact that no link between that city and the script has ever been determined. The powerful and visually appealing lines of kufic script lack punctuation and diacritical marks and are thus difficult to decipher. Qur’ans written in the kufic script were not so much meant to be read as to serve as mnemonic aids for Qur’an reciters, who had already memorized the sacred text.

Folio 32b

Folio from an Islamic Manuscript

This page shows a chapter heading for chapter 7 (Sūrat al-a’rāf) executed in gold ink. The chapter heading in gold ink stands out in contrast with the main text written in black.

Folio 26a

Folio from an Islamic Manuscript

Already in the 9th century, the rectilinear kufic script, as seen on this page, began to be replaced by a more cursive “font” called the New Abbasid style. The Abbasids were an early Islamic dynasty that ruled from 750-1258 A.D. The first center of political, economic and cultural life for the Abbasids was Baghdad, the circular City of Peace (madinat al-salam), which became the empire’s capital in 762.

Folio 5b

Folio from an Islamic Manuscript

The red marks serve as an aid to the individual reciting or reading the text.