Quran of Ibn al-Bawwab

Quran of Ibn al-Bawwab Facsimile Edition

Baghdad (Iraq) — Hegira 391 / AD 1000–01

Artfully executed by one of the most gifted calligraphers of the Middle Ages: one of the most beautiful and magnificent manuscripts of the Quran by the famous and prolific universal artist Ibn al-Bawwab

  1. This beautiful Quran is the work of one of the most prolific calligrapher/illuminators of the Middle Ages

  2. The famous name Ibn al-Bawwab, Abu´l-Hasan Ali b. Hilal (d. ca. 1022) is associated at least 64 Quran manuscripts inter alia

  3. However, the polymath is most famous for perfecting the style of calligraphy invented by the Persian vizier Ibn Mukla (885/6–940)

Quran of Ibn al-Bawwab

  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Quran of Ibn al-Bawwab

This codex is one of the most famous Arabic Quran manuscripts due to the identity of the calligrapher. The manuscript was created at the beginning of the 11th century in Baghdad, where Ibn al-Bawwab is said to have produced about 60 Quranic manuscripts. Due to frequent changes of ownership, however, only this codex has been preserved and thus offers the only opportunity to gain insight into the work of this important calligrapher. How this Quran came to Ireland and into the possession of Chester Beatty, the founder of the library of the same name, is a mystery. For a long time, the value and significance of the manuscript remained unknown until Prof. David Storm Rice clearly identified it. Similarities with manuscripts preserved from the end of the 10th century and the beginning of the 11th century can probably be identified, but the stylistic idiosyncrasy of this Quran is immediately apparent.

Quran of Ibn al-Bawwab

This codex is one of the most famous Arabic Quran manuscripts due to the personality of the calligrapher: Ibn al-Bawwab (d. 1022) also known as Ali ibn-Hilal, Abu'l-Hasan, and Ibn al-Sitri was a famous calligrapher active in Baghdad during the Buyid period ** who reputedly produced 64 copies of the Quran. His highly coveted manuscripts passed through many hands and thus all but one are now lost. The **sole surviving Quran manuscript created by his skilled hand was created in the year 391H, which corresponds to AD 1000/01. Thus, it offers the only opportunity to gain insight into the work of such an important calligrapher and illuminator.
The Quran first came to Ireland as a gift of the Ottoman Sultan Selim I (1470–1512) and eventually came into the possession of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875–1968), an American-British mining magnate the founder of his namesake library in Dublin. The value and significance of the manuscript remained unknown for a long time until Prof. David Storm Rice clearly identified it. Similarities with manuscripts preserved from the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th centuries can be identified, but the stylistic originality of this Quran is immediately apparent.

Innovations in Quranic Manuscript Production

The codex represents the oldest extant Quran written on paper as well as a transition in Quranic manuscript development. Aside from moving away from parchment, the new manuscripts were oriented vertically rather than horizontally. Ibn al-Bawwab also broke with tradition by abandoning Kufic script in favor of rounder, more legible scripts: the main text is written in Naskh (sometimes identified as Reyhan) while the opening pages, Sura headings, and statistical tables as the end of the manuscript were written using Thuluth script. These folios containing verse-counts were also expanded in this manuscript to contain information including the total word and letter count of each Sura, the word count of the entire manuscript, and the number of dotted and undotted letters.
Ibn al-Bawwab adopted new innovations in spacing: instead of spacing equally, he extended certain letters to then create asymmetrical gaps between words that draw the eyes of the reader across the page and also clearly marking new sections for easier identification. Individual verses on the other hand had no spaces between them and are demarcated by triangular clusters of blue dots with every fifth and tenth verse separated by a space with a standard gold marking.

The Mysterious Master Calligrapher

Little is known about the early life of this master illuminator and calligrapher. Ibn al-Bawwab literally translates as the “son of the doorkeeper” and is an indication of his humble origins, which was unusual for an artist during that period. He began his career as a home decorator before becoming an illuminator and eventually a calligrapher. Closely attached to the vizier Fakhr al Mulk Abu Ghalib Muhammad b. Khalaf at Baghdad, he rose to be among the ranks of the government administration and was in charge of the library of Buwayhid Baha´ al-Dawla at Shiraz for a period. He was also a devout man who knew the Quran by heart and is said to have produced 64 copies of it, and a man of letters who was well versed in the law as well as authoring a treatise and a didactic poem on the art of writing. His real title to fame, however, according to the early Arab authors, was to have perfected the style of writing invented, about a century earlier, by his famous predecessor, the vizier Ibn Mukla and to have brought it to a degree of well-balanced elegance which was to be surpassed later only by the efforts of Yakut al-Musta'simi.


Alternative Titles
Koran of Ibn al-Bawwab
Der Koran des Ibn al-Bawwab
Le Coran
Size / Format
564 pages / 13.7 × 11.7 cm
Hegira 391 / AD 1000–01
Naskh script / Rayhan script
Five ornamentally and calligraphically illuminated double-pages as well as golden sura-headings and embellished verse markers throughout
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Quran of Ibn al-Bawwab – Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Chester Beatty Library (Dublin, Ireland) Facsimile Edition
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1981
Detail Picture

Quran of Ibn al-Bawwab

Folio 120 recto

This detail shows one of the many beautiful sura headings in the sublime ornamental script Thuluth, whose large golden letters contrast with the paper by their fine black outline. The script is connected to a magnificent palmette ornament in the margin, which further emphasises the beginning of the new sura. This functional and at the same time splendid ornament is also outlined in black and consists of golden leaves and tendrils on a brilliant blue background. In contrast to this richly illuminated heading, the Āyāt (verses) in dark brown Naskh script appear downright plain despite their calligraphic sophistication, which, however, benefits their readability.

Der Koran des Ibn al-Bawwab
Single Page

Quran of Ibn al-Bawwab

Carpet Page

The decorative opening pages of the manuscript include this magnificent geometrically designed miniature of a prayer rug with an intricate border. Its design consists of six octagonal medallions, each containing script with a Quranic verse and flowering tendrils. Further floral patterns appear between these octagons, including small blue octagons with flowers.

The color palette of this miniature page is limited to gold, blue, brown, and black, although much of the gold leaf has peeled off after centuries of use. This is a fine example of the advanced combinations of floral and geometric patterns created by Muslim artists who were forbidden from depicting the human form in religious art, be it a manuscript miniature or a mosaic in a mosque.

Der Koran des Ibn al-Bawwab
Facsimile Editions

#1 Der Koran des Ibn al-Bawwab

Binding: Embossed leather binding, facsimile and commentary in a linen Solander box with a leather spine
Commentary: 1 volume (130 pages) by David Storm Rice
Languages: Arabic, English
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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