The “Great Umayyad Qur'ān” (Codex Ṣanʿāʾ DAM 20-33.1) From The Time Of Caliph Al-Walīd, Late 1st Century Hijra
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First Composed: 20th June 2006
Last Updated: 7th August 2008
Assalamu ʿalaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:
A fascinating double page display of two full pictures in the "Great Umayyad Qur'an" of (a) a courtyard mosque (left) and (b) a prayer hall consisting of four naves with a two-storey elevation and a transept leading off the mihrab. mosque. Fragments of the extant folios showing (c) Sūrah al-Muddathir, (d) Sūrah al-Fātiḥah and (e) Sūrah al-Nās. Details of the content are given below.
Late 1st century hijra, 710 - 715 CE in the reign of the Umayyad Caliph al-Walīd.
By studying the palaeography, ornamentation and illumination of this manuscript, Hans-Caspar Graf von Bothmer dated it to the last decade of the 1st century of hijra, around 710 - 715 CE, in the reign of the Umayyad caliph al-Walīd. However, the radiocarbon dating of this manuscript suggests an earlier date between 657 and 690 CE.
Husband and wife team Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair are vocal critics of the Umayyad date attached to this manuscript. Bloom and Blair even suggest von Bothmer of being unscientific in his presentation and interpretation of the data. In his article "The Introduction Of Paper To The Islamic Lands And The Development Of The Illustrated Manuscript", Bloom refuses to discuss this manuscript; Blair adopts a more conciliatory stance by explaining the reasons why the presentation of scientific evidence lacks a certain degree of robustness. Oleg Grabar has conducted a detailed interaction and critique of the art-historical methodology adopted by von Bothmer in dating this manuscript and was able to converse with him directly on the matter.
Size & Folios
The original codex had the approximate dimensions of 51 cm (height) x 47 cms (width). It had c. 520 folios. But only 25(?) of them survive. The extant folios are quite fragmented.
History Of The Manuscript
Although it was found in the Great Mosque in Ṣanʿāʾ this monumental Qur'anic manuscript, perhaps one of the most well-studied in recent times, appears to be originally from Syria. This codex may have been sent from Syria to Ṣanʿāʾ after the Great Mosque of Ṣanʿāʾ was expanded.
Script & Ornamentation
At present this is the earliest known Qur'anic manuscript in kufic script. Almost square in format, this Qur'an occupies the middle ground between the vertical format of early ḥijāzī manuscripts and the horizontal codices which were soon to follow for some two centuries. It has superb calligraphy. The calligrapher's pen was wide cut which enabled him to draw lines that range from hair-fine to bold and broad.
The rich illumination in this manuscript comprises of full page images, sūrah dividers and frames. The repertory of ornamental motifs is late classical. This manuscript is unique in the sense that it open with a group of full page images: a representation of Paradise based on a 'cosmogram', a classical motif combining an octagon and a circle and, on the reverse, a mosque. The following page also depicts a mosque; on the reverse the text begins with the first sūrah [Figure (d)]. If the image had not occupied the same leaf as the text, its association with a Qur'an would have been unlikely. These images are the only known Qur'an illustrations and are absolutely unique among extant Qur'an manuscripts.
The mosque does not portray a specific building but rather a type of mosque as does the image on the following leaf. This type of mosque was first employed under the Umayyad caliph al-Walīd, in the Great Mosque of Damascus. The painter has used an unusual combination of floor plan and elevation to show the main features of the building, such as the three sections of the prayer hall, two storeys high, which run parallel to the qibla wall, and the axial space which cuts across these sections, leading from the main gate to the mihrab [Figure (b)]. Important details - the minbar in front of the mihrab, the mosque lamps suspended on long chains, the ablution facilities between the monumental flight of steps, even the minaret with its inside staircase - are depicted with great fluency which testifies to a long pictorial tradition , now lost, which must have preceded this work. Both the type of mosque shown here and the courtyard version on the opposite folio are closely connected with al-Walīd's architectural projects.
The refined techniques suggests that the manuscript was produced in a place with long tradition of book making. Certain features of this manuscript and the iconography suggests that this work was made for al-Walīd who himself may have commissioned it.
The table below is constructed from the content of the various folios of this codex published so far. It is clearly incomplete. We have not included those folios the contents of which are mentioned vaguely.
Codex Ṣanʿāʾ DAM 20-33.1 Folio Number Qur'anic Surah Size of the Folio (cm.) Image Publication – 1:1 - 1:7 42.0 x 35.0 von Bothmer, 1987 – 2:39 - 2:43 43.6 x 29.7 von Bothmer, 1999 – 55:55 - 55:78 36.0 x 35.0 UNESCO Image No. 077064B – 56:1 - 56:20 43.0 x 32.0 UNESCO Image No. 078065B – 67:21 - 67:30 36.0 x 43.0 UNESCO Image No. 162295B; von Bothmer, 1999 – 68:43 - 68:52 , 69:1 - 69:6 44.2 x 42.3 von Bothmer, 1987; idem., 1999; Maṣāḥif Ṣan‘a', 1985 – 69:6 - 69:22 – Déroche, 2002 – 69:23 - 69:50 39.0 x 31.0 UNESCO Image No. 079066C – 74:56, 75:1 - 75:26 43.6 x 39.9 UNESCO Image No. 080067C; von Bothmer, 1999 – 77:5 - 77:27 27.0 x 37.0 UNESCO Image No. 162298B – 79:25 - 79:34 Fragments UNESCO Image No. 162297B – 85:1 - 85:5 45.0 x 13.0 UNESCO Image No. 082069B – 89:13 - 89:30, 90:1 42.7 x 43.5 von Bothmer, 1999 – 99:2 - 100:8 30.0 x 40.0 UNESCO Image No. 162296B – 110:2 - 110:3 32.0 x 13.0 UNESCO Image No. 083070B – 114:3 - 114:6 32.0 x 24.0 UNESCO Image No. 081068B; von Bothmer, 1987
Dār al-Makhtūtāt, Ṣanʿāʾ, Yemen.
 H-C. G. von Bothmer, "Architekturbilder Im Koran Eine Prachthandschrift Der Umayyadenzeit Aus Dem Yemen", Pantheon, 1987, Volume 45, pp. 4-20.
 H-C. G. von Bothmer, K-H. Ohlig & G-R. Puin, "Neue Wege Der Koranforschung", Magazin Forschung (Universität des Saarlandes), 1999, No. 1, p. 45; Also see H-C. G. von Bothmer's write-up and images in M. B. Piotrovsky & J. Vrieze (Eds.), Art Of Islam: Heavenly Art And Earthly Beauty, 1999, De Nieuwe Kerk: Amsterdam & Lund Humphries Publishers, pp. 101.
 J. M. Bloom, "The Introduction Of Paper To The Islamic Lands And The Development Of The Illustrated Manuscript", Muqarnas, 2000, Volume XVII, pp. 22-23 (footnote 15). He says, “I am deliberately neglecting the fragmentary double frontispiece to a magnificent parchment manuscript of the Koran discovered in the Great Mosque of San’a … because there is no scientific proof for von Bothmer's claim that the manuscript has been carbon dated to the Umayyad period, and a ninth-century date seems more likely on the basis of script.”
 S. S. Blair, Islamic Calligraphy, 2006, Edinburgh University Press Ltd: Edinburgh (Scotland), p. 125 & p. 139, footnote 95. Noting that the E20 Manuscript and the Samarqand Manuscript produce a range of 220 years and 260 years respectively at the 95% confidence level, Blair is suspicious of the low range reported by von Bothmer, noting it is only 33 years in length. Furthermore, she complains that the testing facility and standard deviations (confidence levels) are absent. Blair is not entirely correct when she says that the confidence level has not been given. The 95% confidence level for the radiocarbon dating of this manuscript was given elsewhere with the date 645-690 CE, see C. Hillenbrand, "Muhammad And The Rise Of Islam", in P. Fouracre (Ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History c. 500 – c. 700, 2005, Volume I, Cambridge University Press, p. 330. Matters are further complicated however as the reference provided by Hillenbrand does not provide details of the radiocarbon dating! Hillenbrand took the details of the radiocarbon dating from her husband Professor Robert Hillenbrand who in turn took the information directly from von Bothmer himself (i.e., personal communication). Von Bothmer is currently preparing a voluminous tome on the Ṣanʿāʾ manuscripts. Any judgements as to the soundness and completeness of the results reported above will be resolved by the publication of this volume.
 O. Grabar, The Mediation Of Ornament, 1992, The A. W. Mellon Lectures In The Fine Arts, 1989, Bollingen Series XXXV, Princeton University Press: Princeton (USA), pp. 155-194. Although this Ṣanʿāʾ Qur'an is not exclusively discussed in all these pages, one should read the entire chapter to appreciate the full extent of Grabar's argument; he also provides a detailed reconstruction of how these two frontispieces may have originally looked [ibid., pp. 158-159]. On a similar note, for a brief study of early Bible and Qur'an illuminations with mention of this manuscript see, E. Baer, "Early Bible And Qur'ān Illuminations: Preliminary Remarks", in B. H. Hary, J. L. Hayes & F. Astren (Eds.), Judaism And Islam: Boundaries, Communication And Interaction - Essays In Honor Of William M. Brinner, 2000, Brill: Leiden, pp. 139-156.
 H-C. G. von Bothmer, "Architekturbilder Im Koran Eine Prachthandschrift Der Umayyadenzeit Aus Dem Yemen", Pantheon, 1987, op. cit., p. 5.
 H-C. G. von Bothmer, "Masterworks Of Islamic Book Art: Koranic Calligraphy And Illumination In The Manuscripts Found In The Great Mosque In Sanaa", in W. Daum (ed.), Yemen: 3000 Years Of Art And Civilization In Arabia Felix, 1987?, Pinguin-Verlag (Innsbruck) and Umschau-Verlag (Frankfurt/Main), p. 180.
 The entire discussion in this section is taken and adapted from M. B. Piotrovsky & J. Vrieze (Eds.), Art Of Islam: Heavenly Art And Earthly Beauty, 1999, op. cit., p. 101.
 The published manuscripts can be seen in Memory Of The World: Ṣanʿāʾ Manuscripts, CD-ROM Presentation, UNESCO. A useful guide to the contents in the CD-ROM was prepared by K. Small & E. Puin, "UNESCO CD of Ṣanʿāʾ Mss. Part 3: Qur'ān Palimpsests, And Unique Qur'ān Illustrations", Manuscripta Orientalia, 2007, Volume 13, Number 2, pp. 63-70. For other folios see H-C. G. von Bothmer, "Architekturbilder Im Koran Eine Prachthandschrift Der Umayyadenzeit Aus Dem Yemen", Pantheon, 1987, op. cit., pp. 14-16; Maṣāḥif Ṣanʿāʾ, 1985, Dār al-Athar al-Islāmiyyah: Kuwait, p. 45; M. B. Piotrovsky & J. Vrieze (Eds.), Art Of Islam: Heavenly Art And Earthly Beauty, 1999, op. cit., pp. 102-104; H-C. G. von Bothmer, "Masterworks Of Islamic Book Art: Koranic Calligraphy And Illumination In The Manuscripts Found In The Great Mosque In Sanaa", in W. Daum (ed.), Yemen: 3000 Years Of Art And Civilization In Arabia Felix, 1987?, op. cit., p. 186; F. Déroche, "New Evidence About Umayyad Book Hands" in Essays In Honour Of Ṣalāḥ Al-Dīn Al-Munajjid, 2002, Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation Publication: No. 70, Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation: London (UK), p. 630.
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