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Lapis and Gold: Exploring Chester Beally 's Ruzbihan Qur'an.

Lapis and Gold: Exploring Chester Beally 's Ruzbihan Qur'an. By ELAINE WRIGHT. London: AD ILISSUM, 2018. Pp. xvi + 320, color illus. $120, [pounds sterling]90.00, [euro]100.

This lavishly illustrated volume provides a detailed study of an exquisite manuscript preserved in the Chester Beatty Library under the shelfmark CBL Is 1558 ( 558/6/LOG0000/). Known as the Ruzbihan Quran, it was named after the sixteenth-century master Ruzbihan Muhammad al-Tab'T al-Shirazi, to whom the calligraphy is attributed in the colophon. The manuscript is sumptuously decorated, and the volume explores in meticulous detail its extensive decorative program along with the complex processes of its production. The in-depth investigation is the direct outcome of a conservation effort by the author--former Curator of Islamic Collections at the Chester Beatty Library--and a cadre of conservation specialists, including Kristine Rose Beers, who composed an incisive essay for the volume.

The volume is comprised of six chapters, nine appendices, and a bibliography of works cited. In the opening chapter Elaine Wright provides an essential introduction to the manuscript, what is currently understood of its place and date of production, and its need for conservation. She concludes with a brief overview of the historical context and discussion of the evidence suggesting that more than one artist working under the name Ruzbihan was active in sixteenth-century Shiraz. Signatures bearing this name reportedly appear in colophons identifying the calligrapher in seven manuscripts (appendix two) and with illuminations identifying the illuminator in eight manuscripts (appendix nine). However, the form of the name as calligrapher varies distinctly from the form as illuminator. Though it has been suggested by David James that the same individual could be responsible for both, there is no evidence to support this, particularly not within the colophon of CBL Is 1558 (pi. 10) where two synonyms for calligraphic transcription are employed.

Chapters two through five are devoted to the analytical treatment of the manuscript's writing and decorative elements, with a brief treatment of its binding. Chapter two opens with the preparation of the writing surface, consideration of the layout, utilization of scripts, and approaches to spacing text, accommodating omissions, and other scribal errors. Chapter three presents decorative approaches to indicating variant readings, places for pausing and resuming recitation, prostration, verse markers, and various divisions. Chapters four and five painstakingly address frontispieces, finispieces, side panels, chapter headings, frames, and the manipulation of particular forms such as the ray (tigh), lotus (and other blossoms), palmettes, and cloud bands. Another interesting discussion concerns the change in aesthetic that overtakes the manuscript near the close, where folios show signs of having been reworked in a completely different and somewhat experimental style.

Wright concludes that the manuscript is remarkable in the "combined quality, extent, complexity and diversity" (p. 115) of its decorative program and that a sizeable team of skilled artisans (rather than any single individual) was responsible. She is careful to situate approaches to contour, motif, and palette in the context of fifteenth-century Turcoman production, and in the final chapter assesses the Ruzbihan Quran as a product of sixteenth-century Shirazi production. She also traces its acquisition history.

A valuable essay by Beers, "Investigating the Palette of the Ruzbihan Qur'an," highlights the selection and manipulation of media. Focusing on pigments, dyes, and binders, the essay represents a tremendous contribution to the growing body of knowledge on the colorants used to create painted decoration and painted illustration in Islamic manuscript cultures (reminiscent of a recent article by Penley Knipe et al., https://doi. org/10.1186/s40494-018-0217-y). For the most part, the pigments and dyes identified are consistent with those mentioned in contemporary treatises. An especially interesting finding concerns the presence of a fine layer of wax over areas of ultramarine--the most extensively utilized pigment in the manuscript, along with gold. Derived from lazurite (known for its gem form lapis lazuli), ultramarine is notoriously difficult to produce and to utilize. Typically it is not possible to paint over this pigment; adjacent colors must be painted first and ultramarine painted around them. However, the illuminators of CBL Is 1558 found another solution--applying first a layer of wax to the ultramarine ground before painting over.

This volume represents a model investigation into the materials and processes of sixteenth-century Shirazi luxury manuscript production by way of an extraordinary exemplar. The emphasis on typical features and deployment of comparanda help enrich the discussion and serve to establish the conformity or distinctiveness of the Ruzbihan Quran. The analysis is particularly valuable in its focus on the procedures and methods adopted by the calligrapher and illuminators, such as use of marginal notes to indicate the text to appear, approaches to correcting errors, impact of pigment selection on painting techniques, use of pasted panels, and so forth.

A number of guiding notes and explanations are included with the nonspecialist in mind, and the instances of otherwise imprecise terminology (e.g., "doublewide sheets" to introduce bifiolios) may represent an interest in more relatable language. Specialists will appreciate the detailed presentation of data--elaborate discussion, copious high-quality illustrations (often at high magnification), tables, extensive footnotes, and rich appendices.

The outcome of this remarkably close scrutiny is most valuable as a compendium of codicological data and as a model for approaching future studies of painted decoration in Islamic manuscript cultures. It is highly recommended reading for anyone pursuing a deeper knowledge of Islamic manuscript production.


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Author:Kropf, Evyn
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Jan 1, 2021
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