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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsSPEAKER 1: In this section, we will look at how the materials, techniques, and types of ornament relate to wider Islamic manuscript culture. Manuscripts of the Qur'an were produced using the finest materials available. Early Qur'an manuscripts were usually made from parchment, the skin of sheep or goat, that went through special preparation for its use as a writing material. 1572a, the Birmingham Qur'an is made of parchment. Because parchment was so expensive, sometimes, the ink was washed and the material was used again. This is what's known as a palimpsest. The Birmingham Qur'an manuscript was closely examined, and underwent multispectral imaging to test if it could have been a palimpsest.

Skip to 1 minute and 4 secondsBoth these tests conclusively revealed that the parchment had not previously been used, and that this is not a case of the palimpsest. An alternative material that was cheaper to produce and abundant in Islamic lands was papyrus. Papyrus was mainly used for administrative purposes. Until the introduction of paper, papyrus was the inexpensive option. The material that would transform Islamic book culture was the introduction of paper. Paper making technology was introduced in the mid 8th century. It is thought that the technique was first learned from Chinese prisoners captured during the battle of Talas in 751. The introduction of paper had a revolutionary effect and led to the proliferation of books in Islamic book culture.

Skip to 2 minutes and 2 secondsHere's an earliest example of a paper manuscript in the collection. And it was written around about the year 1,000. And it is also one of the earliest extant copies of Bukhari's book of traditions. Early Islamic manuscripts mainly used black ink. Black ink with either carbon based, which was made from the powder remnant after burning organic or mineral substances. Carbon based inks are frequently used in both Qur'an and non-Qur'anic manuscripts. Another type of ink is iron gall ink, which was produced from a chemical reaction with the tannin from the gall nut. Some early Qur'an manuscripts use iron gall ink.

Skip to 2 minutes and 46 secondsInfrared analysis has helped us to identify the ink that was used in 1572a, and we can say that it was iron gall ink. Iron gall ink becomes transparent under infrared light. We will learn more about this in week three. Red ink, or rubrication, has been used across manuscript cultures to highlight certain elements of text. You can see here that red ink has been used to separate Surahs, and to highlight the Bismillah, and the rest of the first line of Surah Ta-Ha in 1572a. The red ink used here was probably from the red kermes plant. You can see that it was applied after the black ink used for the main script.

Skip to 3 minutes and 33 secondsSometimes the use of such rubrication has been cited as identifying the manuscript as being from later in the seventh century. However, it's impossible to rule out that rubrication was not added later to an earlier Qur'an manuscript. In the case of 1572a, you can see that the red decoration appears to have been squeezed in between the two lines. Another use of colour in manuscripts was the use of gold or sometimes silver. This is known as illumination or gilding, and was used to ornament headings and various other parts of the text. From these early Qur'an manuscripts, we can see that colour, or gilding, was essentially used to highlight, emphasise, or organise the text of the Qur'an.

Skip to 4 minutes and 25 secondsYou can see from these manuscripts how gilding was added to ornament other non-Qur'anic manuscripts. Other colours were also used, too. You have the blue from the lapis lazuli. The type and combination of green and orange pigments used in this manuscript can even help us to identify that this manuscript was of Kashmiri origin. In this manuscript, the extravagant use of colour, gilding, and ornamentation is an example of how lots of techniques were brought together in one manuscript. How are the styles and techniques that we talked about earlier adapted and used in other Islamic manuscripts? We looked at calligraphy earlier. Calligraphic art were not limited just to the Qur'an. You can see their importance in other religious manuscripts, too.

Skip to 5 minutes and 16 secondsThis manuscript uses an angular script throughout. Here different scripts and use of colour come together to provide a specific layout or [INAUDIBLE] that distinguishes between the inter linear Arabic text and the Persian translation. This is another example of the Sahi of Bukhari, and this is written in fine [INAUDIBLE] script. This press road has been written on woven silk, and shows the importance of fine calligraphy in religious manuscripts. Patrons of Islamic manuscripts were just as concerned with the style of copying literary, historical, and scientific works. These Persian manuscripts show how the nostalgic script was used. The script was developed in Iran in the 18th century and became the script of poetry and literary narratives.

Skip to 6 minutes and 9 secondsThe styles and techniques that were used to ornament Qur'an manuscripts would also influence wider Islamic manuscript culture. Here are examples of how some of the geometric patterns that were initially developed around Qur'an manuscripts were also used in other Islamic manuscripts. Here you can see how the vegetal motifs that were developed in Qur'an manuscripts were also used in other non-Quran manuscripts. The elaborate carpet pages and Surah headings that we talked about earlier, that were initially developed for Qur'an manuscripts, soon developed into elaborate frontis pieces and head pieces when it came to non-Qur'an manuscripts. One of the biggest differences between Qur'an manuscripts, as well as other religious manuscripts in general, and literary manuscripts is the use of figural representation.

Skip to 7 minutes and 3 secondsUnlike other religious traditions, Qur'an manuscripts never include figural representations of humans or animals. The same is the case with religious manuscripts. Images regarded as a potential focus of worship or idolatry. This manuscript shows a depiction of Mecca and Medina. Although, it's not unusual for there to be drawings in religious manuscript, this would be an exception, because the focus is a religious setting. Figural representations were at times included as part of decorative borders. For example, here, you can see in the border that there are flowers and rosettes, animals, and birds. This kind of decoration was a particular favourite with Mughals.

Qur’an manuscripts and Islamic manuscript culture

How do the materials, techniques and types of decoration relate to wider manuscript culture?

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This video is from the free online course:

The Birmingham Qur'an: Its Journey from the Islamic Heartlands

University of Birmingham