52 Weeks of Fantastic Bindings, Week 51: a beautiful 19th century hand-painted and lacquered Qur’an
I’ve selected one of the true beauties of our collections for the second-to-last binding post of this series. It is no surprise that many of the binding posts featured this year were from sacred or devotional texts including Bibles, Qur’ans and commentaries. These books often meant the most to their readers and so they adorned them in the most beautiful way possible. Often these books would be the only book to be found in a house-hold, or certainly the most important, and these books often provided a large surface which could be decorated properly. This week’s binding post is no different: this week we feature a 19th century hand written and decorated Qur’an from the Manuscript Collection’s Oriental Collection.
This Qur’an, almost certainly produced in India, was produced for the Nawab Ahmad ‘Ali Khan Bahadur (1822-1879), who was from the ruling family of the state of Hyderabad during the Asaf Jahi dynasty. It has been written in Nashk script (Persian was the court language in India) and signed by the copyist Mirza Muhammad Kazim. The date has been given as “10 Rabi` al-awwal 1266H” or 23 February 1850.
The binding of this Qur’an has been made from pasteboards which have been hand-painted, inside and out, in opaque water colours and gold leaf and then varnished in several layers. Lacquer bindings like this are not ‘true’ lacquer, as in Japanese or Chinese lacquer, however this style is known in Iran from the 15th century and was used right up to the 19th century, when they were exquisitely produced, typically painted with dense floral bouquets, with the odd nightingale or butterfly among the leaves and petals. Muhammad ‘Ali Naggash [naggash = painter] is noted as the painter of cover.
This is a beautiful book to behold, and does its contents justice. It is one of the shining stars of our collections, in terms of bindings, and deserves this penultimate place in this year’s thread. Many thanks go out to Moya Carey, one of the curators of Islamic Art at the V&A, for her input on this item.