The Triumph of Holiness and Beauty: The Qur’ans
An exhibition in the Caucasus Rooms (Rooms
The priceless ancient manuscripts that have survived the calamities and persecutions of the Tsarist Epoch and the Soviet atheistic period fascinate the modern viewer, creating ‘the triumph of holiness and beauty’.
The collection itself began to form starting from the middle of the 1950s,
when the battle against religion subsided to a certain extent, giving
way to the understanding of the great importance of the Islamic manuscripts
for the studies of history, literature and culture. Unfortunately, a lot
of manuscripts were destroyed during the period
The Islamic religion began to spread in Daghestan approximately in VII century in the region of the Caspian Sea. It took several centuries before it became the dominant religion; however, by XIII century most part of the population had adopted Islam.
Despite the opinion stating that the Islamic Russia is a periphery of the Muslim world, researchers call Daghestan a granary of the Muslim philosophy with a rich manuscript heritage. This is proved by an interesting fact: among the written works created before XV century, the predominant ones were manuscripts from different Islamic countries, although they were rewritten in Daghestan. Later, the works of the Daghestan authors, created and rewritten in different settlements, became more widespread. Some works of the local writers date back to the end of XI century.
The collection of manuscripts of the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography of the Daghestan Scientific Centre under the Russian Academy of Science has more than three thousand manuscripts. The collection is very diverse and includes works devoted to the interpretation of the Qur’an, the Muslim law, lexicology, philology, history of Sufism (mysticism).
A great number of the Qur’an manuscripts coming from various places in the world, as well as created in Daghestan itself, witness about the activity of the Muslims in Daghestan starting from the first centuries when that religion started to spread. The activity found its expression in the pursuit of both the Islamic knowledge and the objects of the Islamic art, the most important one being the book.
The holy book of the Muslims, the Qur’an, occupies a leading place, since both the Muslim theology and the Muslim law have origins in the Qur’an. Calligraphy is one of the instruments of daavat, the preaching tradition of the Muslims. The rewriting of the Qur’an was considered to be a holy deed, and the art of calligraphy was placed higher than the pictorial art. In XVI century the Sultan Ali Meshedi wrote: "the purity of the script comes from the purity of the soul".
The Qur’ans were rewritten with different handwriting styles, and the names of different Suras (chapters) as well as the margins were decorated by rich ornaments. Before XIII century the Qur’ans were often rewritten with the angular Kufic script, the examples of which can be seen at the exhibition. Starting from XIV century the calligraphers ceased to use Kufic script for rewriting the Qur’an. That was a tendency in the countries of the Middle East and the Central Asia, where, as well as in the Caucasus, that style was the most widespread. At the same time, Kufic script could be used for the names of the chapters. In the Western part of the Islamic world its use continued both in XIV and the beginning of XV centuries. Starting from XIV century, the most common scripts for the Qur’an rewriting in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus were Naskh, Muhakkak and Suls scripts.
The earliest Qur’an manuscript at the exhibition is a fragment by an unknown calligrapher Muhammad, ibn of Husein ibn Muhammad, completed on Friday 11th, in the month of Rabi II 400 AH (December 2nd, 1009).
One of the most interesting manuscripts in terms of the artistic
form is a part of the Qur’an written in Naskh
and Suls scripts by the calligrapher Muhammad, ibn Muhammad,
ibn Ahmad, grandson
Most Qur’ans presented at the exhibition were allegedly rewritten and decorated
with ornaments in different settlements of Daghestan during
The curator of the exhibition is Anatoly Ivanov, lead researcher of the Oriental Department of the State Hermitage, Candidate of Science in History.