52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 42: 15th century Qur’an bound in contemporary gold-stamped goatskin
As we begin to round out our last 10 binding posts, it’s time to start getting out the treasures! This week’s binding feature is one of the highlights of our Oriental Manuscript collection: ms19(o), a richly illuminated and complete 15th century Timurid Qur’an.
A dedication note has been pasted to the front cover (pictured above) that tells us that this Qur’an was produced in 1441-1442 (AH845) by a scribe named Muhammad Mu’min ibn Abdallah al-Muwarid. It is also noted that this manuscript was made for Sultan Abu Said Shuja ad-Din Bahadur Khan, who ruled the Transoxiana region in his time, and so we can assume that this manuscript and its binding might have been produced here. Sultan Abu Said Shuja ad-Din Bahadur was the grandson of Timur, the legendary 15th century conqueror of most of western, central and southern Asia and the founder of the Timurid dynasty.
This item has been bound in rich, deep red goatskin, including the fore-edge flap, which has been heavily decorated with gold fillets and stamps. This binding style incorporating a fore-edge flap seems to be not uncommon, as similar items of the same time period found at The Walters Art Museum (Maryland), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and at St John’s College (Cambridge).
This Qur’an was presented to St Andrews by the Court of Directors of the East India Company in 1806, having obtained it from the library of Tipu Sultan, a staunch opponent of the British East India Company. Another Qur’an from the library of Tipu Sultan was given to the University of Cambridge by the Company, however it is not very clear what the relationship to the East India Company and St Andrews and Cambridge was.
If, indeed, this manuscript was produced in the Transoxiana region, that means that sometime between the mid-15th century and the 18th century this Qur’an travelled over 4,000 km to southern India, and then twice as much again when the book was removed from Tipu Sultan’s library and brought to our green shores. The layout of this manuscript, and its decoration, reflected the architecture of the era it was produced in, and in turn the binding reflects the manuscript: strong and solid and full of wonder. This is truly a beautiful item to behold.