One of the arts that flourished in Islamic countries in the Middle Ages was the art of decorating manuscripts and gilding them. In general, illumination occupies a central place in Islamic arts. It has its own schools, institutes and workshops, and it was full of experts in decorative arts. The Sultans and kings embraced calligraphers and embellishers; several schools of decoration and portraying emerged and reflected the historical and cultural stages of Islamic civilization: such as: Baghdadi, Mughal, Ottoman, Persian, and Indian. This exhibition is concerned with showing the decoration and gilding of various Islamic manuscripts and offers an aesthetic experience. The exhibition contains 60 different types of these decorated manuscripts. It is divided into four sections: the decoration of the Qur’an, the manuscript frontispiece, treasury manuscripts, and miniatures.
- Showcase the various types of Islamic manuscripts.
- Present the key elements of manuscript illustration and calligraphy.
- Highlight the aesthetic qualities of illumination and gliding.
Illumination of Treasury Manuscripts
This type of decoration appeared in the Abbasid period. Treasury manuscripts are those that were written and commissioned by the treasuries of kings, sultans and princes, or by the treasuries of the schools and academies that they founded. The most famous of these libraries is that of the Abbasid Caliphs in Baghdad, which remained teeming with books and precious works until it was invaded by the Tatars, and destroyed by Hulaku in 1258 AD.
The decoration of the Qur’an and Qur’anic texts began early in the history of Islamic civilization. The names of the Suras were distinguished in some early Hijazi and Kufi manuscripts with a distinctively colored and decorated ribbon. In the Mamluk period, the decoration of the Qur’an was of great importance which led to the emergence of rare Mamluk Qur’ans which were usually commissioned by kings.
Miniature painting is one of the traditional arts that was commonly practiced in Islamic, Asian and European countries. The miniature is a small artistic picture, painted in a book to illustrate its content. The first Arabic book in which miniatures appeared was “Kalila wa Dimna”, then in the Ilkhanate period (1256-1353), miniatures became common in Persian literary manuscripts.
The Manuscript Frontispiece
The artist often places an ornament in the top section of the back of the first paper indicating the beginning of the text. This decoration coexists with the beginning of the book, and takes forms that go by different names such as: sarloha, turra, tughra or dibaja. In fact, the art of gilding was one of the finest arts after calligraphy. Artists were proud to mention their names on the manuscript, preceded by the title of “gilder”.
King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies
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