Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts in the British Library


Daghistani Qur’an manuscripts in the British Library

‘Bold script of wildness and beauty’ is Jan Just Witkam’s evocative description of the calligraphy of a manuscript from Daghistan in the collection of Leiden University Library (Cod. Or. 11964), a characterization which seems supremely well suited for a product of this mountainous and fiercely proud region in the Caucasus mountains. Today, Dagestan is a republic located in the Russian Federation, bounded to the east by the Caspian Sea and to the south by Azerbaijan and Georgia, and home to a rich and distinctive manuscript culture.  The British Library holds a small collection of ten Qur’an manuscripts from Daghistan, and in this blog each manuscript will be pictured to illustrate some of the many distinctive features of this impressive but little-known manuscript tradition.

The most immediately striking feature of Daghistani manuscript illumination is the vibrant palette of red, yellow, green, purple and brown, which contrasts strongly with the predominantly blue and gold nexus of the Ottoman and Indo-Persianate manuscript traditions to the south…Many of these Daghistani Qur’ans are large manuscripts, written on burnished paper of Russian manufacture, as evidenced in watermarks or embossed factory stamps. Bindings are usually plain and relatively ‘rustic’ in appearance, of dark brown leather without envelope flaps. Simple tooled frame lines are often joined by straight lines along the horizontal, vertical and diagonal axes, with stamped corner pieces and central medallions.  Particularly characteristic is the frequent use of small circular stamps along the ruled axes.

Two major programs are currently digitizing manuscripts in Dagestan: the Factum Foundation has been working with the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography (IHAE) in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, to digitize the manuscript collections held in the IHAE, while a British Library Endangered Archives Program project ‘Digitizing Dagestan’s Manuscript Heritage: Manuscripts from the Library of ‘Alī al-Ghumūqī (1878-1943)’ is currently underway.

Source: The British Library

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