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The following paper presents and analyzes the folio page from a Qur’an manuscript with calligraphic work by Ahmad ibn al-Suhrawardi al-Bakri and illustrational craft of Muhammad ibn Aibak ibn ‘Abdallah, otherwise called the illuminator. The first section of this essay describes the contents of the folio, including such aspects as the inscription and its meaning, the main details of the pattern that surrounds the text and the overall appearance of the work. The second part investigates the history of the Ilkhanid period, during which the folio was created. The details of the artwork and architecture produced during this period are also described in this chapter. Furthermore, the third part of the essay analyzes the mentioned work and aims to define its importance in the time of its creation and find a particular meaning of the work as well. Finally, the conclusion summarizes the points made in the previous chapters and presents the significance of this work to the spheres of contemporary art and art history.
The artwork mentioned above is a folio from a large Qu’ran manuscript, created approximately in the year of 1307 or 1308 (The Met, 2017). This date of the folio’s creation shows that it was produced in the Ilkhanid period. Moreover, the place of production is also known as this work is attributed to Baghdad, Iraq. Interestingly, the names of the calligrapher, Ahmad ibn al-Suhrawardi al-Bakri, and the illuminator, Muhammad ibn Aibak ibn ‘Abdallah, are also available to the public. As one can see, the folio consists of two distinct parts – the central inscription and the surrounding illustration (“Folio,” 2017). These components can be described separately as each of them was produced by a different person. However, the two parts join perfectly in their stylization.
The inscription in the center is divided into three lines of text. In Arabic, the script can be translated as “Ahmad ibn Suhrawardi al-Bakri praises God and prays for His messenger Muhammad, his family, and his companions and salutes” (The Met, 2017). This text is written in one of the main calligraphic scripts of the Arabic language, with intricate details that show the level of the calligrapher’s craftsmanship. The color of the text is plain black which allows a reader to concentrate on the phrase itself. Moreover, this decision pulls the attention of a person in the center, creating a contrast between the paper and the writing.
The second part of the folio is represented by the surrounding frame which also has two inscriptions on the top and bottom of the page. The Arabic text in these writings is the same in both parts. Interestingly, the font of the script here is vastly different from the one in the central piece. It appears to be much simpler and more linear, while the text in the center is more undulated and vertical. It is possible that the choice of this font was made with its background and color in mind as the frame of the page is gold and blue. The color of the writing in the border is also gold, which allows the text to blend in with the rest of the composition, creating an effect of engraving. The highly detailed frame sets the page apart and showcases the possible significance of this particular book. The creators of this folio probably knew that this specific copy would be owned by a person of high society.
The history of the Ilkhanid period and its art is closely connected to many nations, including Iran, Iraq, and Mongolia. In 1221, the Mongol invasions began conquering the Islamic world (Bloom, 2012). According to De Nicola and Melville (2016), the period after the intrusion was marked by significant cultural exchanges and the rise of the Islamic art. In fact, after the second part of the thirteenth century, the artists of the Islamic world started to mix the elements of the East Asian culture with their own motives which allowed them to create a new branch of art. All spheres of the creative world flourished during the Ilkhanid period, including illustration, pottery, metalwork, and jewelry. However, the craft of illumination and calligraphy in books was developed even more.
Bloom (2012) points out that paper became one of the most significant materials for the art of the Ilkhanid period under the influence of the Mongol nation. The author argues that this shift was prompted by the decreasing costs of the material, which allowed one to produce bigger sheets and use paper in more works. Thus, books became more lavish and decorated, which quickly affected the state of book production. Illuminators and calligraphers perfected their craft to decorate books that would appear in the collections of some prominent families. The price of paper also allowed artists to work with other mediums and transfer their art from one material to another. Bloom (2012) mentions the work of Ahmad ibn al-Suhrawardi al-Bakri, including the described page, as the calligrapher’s signature can be found on the artifacts. This folio is one of the primary examples of the art of illumination and illustration of the Ilkhanid period.
The described folio shows the development of the period and presents a mixture of cultures that define the Ilkhanid period. As MahdiNejad, Zarghami, and Sadeghi HabibAbad (2016) state, the use of such colors as indigo and yellow became more widespread with the acceptance of Islam by the Ilkhanid rulers. Therefore, the invasion did not limit the cultural development of the Islamic religious art. The decoration used by the illustrator in this folio reveals a connection with other motives that can be found in the works of architecture of this period. For instance, Blair (2014) describes the tomb of Uljaytu and notes its lavish interior decor which resembles the illumination of the folio both in color and in form. Blue and golden accents are present in most works of the period.
One can see the use of intricate details in the golden geometric patterns that surround the inscription and understand that this particular piece of art is an example of the Ilkhanid art. While the purpose of this folio is quite straightforward as it is related to the most important book of the culture, its use of colors and materials shows that the illustrators’ culture is blended with the development that was possibly triggered by the invasion. This work was significant during the period of its creation as well because it was a clear sign of the rising Islamic culture.
The importance of the folio from the anonymous Qur’an manuscript to the art of the Ilkanid period is as apparent as its significance to the contemporary art. Its intricate details and high level of craftsmanship show that this time was defined by various developments of the Islamic culture. The use of paper as the material for art production is also notable as it presents more information on the progress of people from that region. Currently, this work can be appreciated by many people as it can be viewed by audiences that do not understand the language. Although some of its meaning may be lost for those that do not know Arabic, its use of multiple elaborate fonts and colorful illumination can be appreciated by everyone.
Blair, S. S. (2014). Text and image in medieval Persian art. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press.
Bloom, J. M. (2012). The transformative medium in Ilkhanid art. In L. Komaroff (Ed.), Beyond the legacy of Genghis Khan (pp. 289-302). Boston, MA: Brill.
De Nicola, B., & Melville, C. (Eds.). (2016). The Mongols’ Middle East: Continuity and transformation in Ilkhanid Iran. Boston, MA: Brill.
Folio [Image]. (2017). Web.
MahdiNejad, J., Zarghami, E., & Sadeghi HabibAbad, A. (2016). A study on the concepts and themes of color and light in the exquisite Islamic architecture. Journal of Fundamental and Applied Sciences, 8(3), 1077-1096.
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The Met. (2017). Folio from a Qur’an manuscript. Web.