An Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script

Share this:

François Déroche

Manuscript: the first appearance of this term as a noun in the late sixteenth century - in English as well as in French - indicates that its existence is due in part to the invention of printing. It was only when books were no longer all copied by hand, as the traditional mode of making them was giving way to this irresistible rival, that a new word entered the language: manuscript, a book ‘manually inscribed’, written by hand. And it is books that are the subject of this volume. Of course, in many other contexts, ranging from administrative documents to literary composition, the hand continued to favour the pen and was not to abandon it until long after the sixteenth century. This, however, applies not to books but to documents, whose study falls within the domains of papyrology, diplomatics, and so on. Similarly beyond the scope of this study are inscriptions, even though some of them record texts that also appear in manuscripts or were executed with implements similar to those used by scribes. It is the book, copied by hand for centuries - and more precisely a specific form of book, the ‘codex’ - that is the focus of the field of codicology.

What is codicology? It is a recent term that has its origin in scholarship.[1] A definition ‘that sticks close to the etymological roots would be ‘the study or knowledge of codices’ (from the Latin codex and the Greek λóγoϛ). This answer, however, is too brief and needs to be expanded upon. The field that has adopted the name of ‘codicology’ can arguably claim a certain legitimacy from the way in which the West traditionally referred to books. Unlike Arabic, which places the emphasis on the aspect of writing (in words such as kitāb and makhṭūṭ), English, following French and Latin, etymologically refers above all to materials: ‘book’, ‘codex’, and ‘volume’ derive respectively from words meaning ‘beech tree’, ‘wooden tablet’, and ‘roll of papyrus’. Codicology, then, refers primarily to the study of the material aspects of codices: that is, manuscript books comprising a series of gatherings, or quires, of sheets. This remains the basic structure of the book to this day, even though the printing press has replaced the hand of the copyist.

Not all books are codices

Before going further into the subject, it is worth remembering that books can also be made in other ways. The υolumen, or scroll, long enjoyed a dominant position in the Mediterranean world.[2] Nor did the triumph of the codex banish every other form of book. True enough; manuscripts in the form of υolumina did not play a major role, numerically speaking, in the Arab and Islamic world.[3] By the time Islam appeared, the Mediterranean world and surrounding regions had replaced scrolls by codices. Volumina did survive in vestigial form, thanks to the liturgical use made of them by Jewish communities - in the form of Torah scrolls-which Muhammad and his followers certainly knew of.[4] But when the text of the Revelation came to be compiled into a book, it was the dominant form of the book - the codex - that was employed.

Volumen and rotulus

It appears that Muslim scribes never used the υolumen, a form characterised by the layout of text in lines perpendicular to the axis of the scroll, arranged in a series of columns read one after another (see illus. 1). The only Islamic manuscripts in the shape of rolls that have so far come to light are in the form of a rotulus (illus. 2). In this latter case, the text runs parallel to the axis[5]; calligraphic variations on this form are not unknown, most of them being copies of the Qur’ān, but such exceptions are few and wholly untypical. To conclude this brief discussion of scrolls, a form that is peculiar to Indonesia deserves to be mentioned. It consists of long, narrow strips of palm stitched end to end, along which runs a single line of text; a wooden or metal frame holds its two rolls together side by side (MS. Jakarta Perpustakaan Nasional, Vt. 43).[6]

1. Volumen
2. Rotulus

Accordion-fold books

Other manuscripts may look like a codex from the outside, but their form is based on a different structure, one that does not use quires of sheets. Most people who have studied calligraphy or miniatures will have come across folding albums pleated like an accordion.[7] They are composed of pieces of pasteboard, to which a series of miniature paintings or pieces of calligraphy have been affixed, held together by flexible cloth hinges. Many accordion-style manuscripts of this type are anthologies put together by a third person - the collector - who brought together items of diverse origin as he saw fit. Another distinctive form, found in certain manuscripts from sub-Saharan Africa, is made up of individual sheets held together by a binding.[8] These will be discussed later.

Single-sheet manuscripts

Manuscripts in the single-sheet format - that is, wherein each leaf corresponds to an individual sheet[9] - were produced mainly during the early Islamic period. The few surviving examples were copied on parchment and make it easy to understand how they were made. Not a single specimen, unfortunately, has come down to us in its original binding, so that it is impossible to know how the sheets were originally held together. A typical example is MS. BNF arabe 324, which can be dated to the latter half of the second/eighth century.[10] Initial examination shows that the flesh side of the parchment most often serves as the recto.[11] Two series of leaves - folios 18 to 27 and 30 to 37 - contain continuous texts, one of ten leaves, the other of eight. In accordance with the usual practice (to be discussed later), the flesh side of the parchment is used for the recto, except for folio 23, which is reversed. It might be thought that these are vestiges of gatherings of sixteen or twenty leaves; but another explanation seems preferable in the light of a study of the 122 leaves of a Qur’ānic text found in two Istanbul manuscripts (TIEM 51 and 52), whose hand is similar to that of the Paris fragments and which present a continuous series of flesh sides as the rectos.[12] Both examples are single-sheet manuscripts, and since each of their leaves represents an entire skin there is no fold, so that the text block is not made up of gatherings. The leaves all face the same direction; that is to say, all the rectos employ the flesh sides of the parchment, while all the versos are hair sides. The state of these manuscripts, which have clearly undergone repeated restoration, makes it impossible to determine how the leaves were originally held together. The question as to whether they were stitched flat[13] or mounted on a stub remains unanswered. The Ṣan‘ā’ manuscript (Dār al-Makhțūtāt 20–33. I) may also have been made of single sheets, though it is not clear whether the leaves all face the same way[14] - as of this writing, there is no precise information on this point. Was this approach ever adopted for manuscripts written on paper? We cannot exclude the possibility that Qur’āns of very large size, such as the so-called Baysunghur Qur’ān, each folio of which today measures I77 X I00 cm, may have been made of single sheets.[15]

The expansion of Islam soon brought Arab conquerors into contact with other civilisations in which book manufacture had followed a different path. The repercussions of the encounter with the Chinese at the battle of Talas (CE 751) are well-known as the story goes, the capture of papermakers slowly led scribes throughout the Islamic world to adopt paper for copying manuscripts.[16]  By contrast, there was no such adoption of the form of books typically used in China. Nor did relations with the Indian subcontinent have much impact on Arab and/or Islamic books: for example, the use of palm-leaf slats called olla (illus. 3) continued to be confined to the indigenous manuscript tradition, since Muslims employed strips of palm leaves only in very special instances, as mentioned above.

The role of codicology in studying manuscripts

The focus of the codicologist’s concern, then, is the codex (illus. 4). This field of study is of relatively recent origin, and is explained by the growing awareness in the twentieth century of the intrinsic interest of books, notably as regards their history. As research has shown, history is quite distinct from that of the texts found in books, whether printed or handwritten. Far from being identical with textual history, codicology sheds light on the history of the period in which a book was produced.

3. Indian palm-leaf manuscript. Paris, BnF indien 283.
4. Codex.

The goals of codicology

To attain its aims, codicology has to undertake two principal tasks. It must first attempt to analyse, as precisely as possible, all the techniques used in making a manuscript. In this task, laboratory methods can solve problems which visual examination alone cannot hope to, for example in determining the composition of the colours used or identifying the fibres in a paper.[17] Even without the aid of laboratory measuring instruments, however, codicologists can gather a significant amount of data by relying on two stalwart allies - their patience and their curiosity. It is hoped that they will also find this handbook useful, designed as it is to provide readers with clues to enable them to recognise the methods employed by the craftsmen who made the books under discussion.

Such analysis, however, cannot be an end in itself. It should be accompanied by an effort to date the various techniques and even to pinpoint them geographically. All work in this field therefore faces the crucial need to constitute coherent sets of documents that shed light on one another. Some of these documents are dated, and now and then they contain evidence as to their origin; and such manuscripts therefore play an essential role in establishing the comparisons required for codicology to progress. More than anything else, it is the single object taken alone-in the eyes of the person examining it, at least - that is fraught with the risk of error and misinterpretation. And there are many manuscripts for which we have no parallels, at least in the present state of research. These manuscripts are not necessarily unica - unique examples of a text - but are often copies of well-known works, starting with the Qur’ān, which display particularities that are hard to explain given the absence of parallels. For example, the comments made by Jacques Berque concerning a Qur’ān (MS. Tunis Bibliothèque nationale 14.246) are debatable because Berque analysed this copy in isolation,[18] whereas in fact it belongs to a larger group.[19] Of the hundreds of thousands of extant manuscripts in Arabic script, the vast majority have not been adequately studied; many, indeed, remain simply unknown.

In order to grasp the limitations of our present knowledge, one need only consider the changes in our understanding of the early centuries of Islam brought about by the discovery of the Qur’ān manuscripts of San‘ā’.[20] Redoubled efforts are therefore required if we are to fully grasp the Arab and Islamic heritage in all its diversity. For the moment, our vision of it is far too incomplete; indeed, it is a limitation of the present handbook that it inevitably reflects the immature state of scholarship in this field, and therefore can represent no more than an initial step.

Codicology and palaeography

Among the various processes involved in producing a manuscript, writing takes pride of place. Specialists in Western manuscripts traditionally accord special importance to the study of writing, or palaeography, which emerged and developed extensively as a science well before codicology appeared, thereby establishing an independent discipline.[21] In the Arab and Islamic field, however, a number of factors impeded the serious study of book scripts, delaying the commencement of rigorous analysis of their forms and evolution. It would thus seem reasonable to include the study of these scripts within the discipline of codicology, which in no way means that we consider manuscript hands to be entirely unrelated to those used for Arabic inscriptions or papyri.

Toward a history of books in Arabic script

The other direction in which codicology must progress remains, for the moment, a distant ideal: the data that specialists are patiently assembling should provide material for a future reconstruction of the history of manuscript books written in Arabic script, faithfully reflecting the intellectual, social, economic, and even technical conditions under which they were produced. Scholars have sometimes directed their research toward more specific goals; Rudolf Sellheim, in Materialen zur arabischen Literaturgeschichte, favours examination of the numerous notes that appear on manuscripts and also accords a larger role to the study of the history of the text, thereby tending to place codicological research more at the service of the history of literature.[22] This latter can in turn shed light on codicology, for example by pointing to the existence of ‘families’ of manuscripts - in other words, groups of copies that derive from a single prototype, often of distant origin.

Codicology and cataloguing

Although the role of codicology makes it an ancillary field of history, its role cannot be reduced to one of merely gleaning elements that may provide a better grasp of the history of a given period. As we learn more about the methods used to produce manuscripts during various periods, our attempts to determine the date and geographic origin of a copy containing no written evidence of either will steadily improve in accuracy. It is readily apparent, however, that the service which codicology can render to all whose work is based on manuscripts depends above all on painstakingly gathering accurate data and meticulously analysing its implications. It is to be hoped that this development will be significantly advanced by progress in cataloguing, [23] and more particularly in describing manuscripts. This handbook itself is indebted to the remarkable work done in the past twenty-five years by the authors of modern catalogues, to whom an acknowledgement and thanks are due.

These modest yet indispensable tasks entail the use of terminology as precise as possible. Thanks to Denis Muzerelle, French codicologists have at their disposal a taxonomy that has been drawn on extensively in arriving at the technical terms employed here[24]. It is hard to overstate the need for terminological accuracy, even when naming the basic parts of a codex. When a manuscript written in Arabic script is laid down flat, the spine will be to the right when the reader begins to read; it is also called the ‘back’, and is where the stitches holding the quires are found. The three other sides are ‘edges’: opposite the back, on the left, is the ‘fore-edge’; the top edge, furthest from the reader, is known as the ‘head’, and the nearer edge is called the ‘tail’.


On the proper use of originals and reproductions[25]

Any examination of the outside and inside of a book should be undertaken with the greatest care. Working on an original makes it possible to draw up a list of notable features and to measure the size of the volume, the thickness of paper, and the written area. One can also detect the places where special apparatus (magnifying glasses, scanners, lamps, beam generators, beta-radiography, image-analysis software) is required to study features that are otherwise invisible; for example, to identify materials used inks, papers, pigments) either with the unaided eye, or with a binocular magnifier, or through physical and chemical analysis of micro-samples[26]. Again, with the original to hand, one may even be able to date the document by smell, given that a freshly tanned skin gives off a characteristic odour.

Even from a first-rate reproduction it is not possible to ascertain the exact colour of the writing surface (be it papyrus, paper, or parchment), to measure its density, to determine its transparency by holding it up to light, or to assess its grain. Nor is it possible with a reproduction to assess the thickness of the page in order to detect patches added or removed, to note scraped areas, to measure the size of the volume, to count the gatherings or to ascertain how they are sewn. It is difficult to study inks and ruling, to determine where the pen has been raised from the paper or to identify passages that have been altered or erased. It must therefore be said that the complete codicological description of a manuscript needs to be based on an examination of the original. Reproductions, however, (photographs, slides, microfilm and microfiche, facsimiles, digitised images) allow for types of handling not feasible with an original, and studying a reproduction can provide useful images that are necessary at a certain point in the analysis. Handling of the original can be reduced and simplified by determining in advance, thanks to the study of a reproduction, what to look for and where.

There are two types of reproduction: firstly, existing reproductions (books and facsimiles, institutional photographic archives, digital and other types of databases); and secondly the researcher’s own reproductions, whose purpose is targeted and precise: sketches, tracings (allowing for visual data to be superimposed), photocopies of books or manuscripts from a microfilm, enlargements and scanned images.

Laboratory techniques for studying manuscripts[27]

Manuscript specialists have long made use of chemical and physical techniques to contribute to their work in either restoring to view writing that has been erased, faded, or worn; attempting to identify the animal from which a given parchment was made (or to date that parchment); analysing the composition of a paper; or identifying the pigments and colours used by copyists and illuminators. The methods employed are now evolving very swiftly, and increasing in accuracy and in ease of use, though of course limitations remain.

It is not possible to provide more than a brief overview of available techniques in these few pages. For further information, readers are advised to consult the proceedings of four conferences, which provide basic information.[28] Although these proceedings provide a convenient survey of current possibilities, they do not dispense with the need to keep abreast of recent publications and to refer to competent physical chemists for updates. In this as in many other fields, tools and techniques are evolving very rapidly.

Decipherment of faded and vanished text

Since the nineteenth century, scholars have been using chemical reagents in efforts to recover writing that has been scraped away or erased. Cardinal Angelo Mai in particular strove to decipher palimpsests in this way, although unfortunately the results were disappointing. The script was often restored only for a relatively short time, and the parchment was irrevocably damaged by the various products employed, making any further attempts at recovering the text impossible. Such methods were consequently abandoned. It is nevertheless worth notig that certain chemists now advocate new methods, which are claimed to be harmless.

At the time of writing, ultraviolet rays are the simplest and most commonly used means of reading deleted or erased texts. Reading can be done directly by using a Woo’s lamp, although this method has the drawback of tiring the eyes even if protective glasses are worn. It is preferable to begin by taking a photograph of the passage to be deciphered. This not only spares the reader’s eyesight but considerably reduces the document’s exposure time to ultraviolet rays which, as is well known, are not without deleterious effect. Ultraviolet fluorescence photographs also offer the advantage of being available for examination at greater length; furthermore, they can be subjected to various methods of contrast enhancement, thereby combining the advan methods.

A more recent technique, ultraviolet reflectography, improves results where the text to be deciphered is written in metallo-gallic ink. In the case of carbon-based inks - the type of ink most frequently used in the East - infrared reflectography gives good results with a Vidicon camera hooked up to a monitor and fitted with an appropriate filter.

Infrared light has another advantage, well known to forensic laboratories: it enables one to read texts eradicated or masked by a layer of paint. In favourable circumstances, then, it becomes possible to read instructions to the artist written on the parchment underneath an illumination, even though the text has been covered over with paint.

In the I97OS, new methods made it possible to restore erased texts with the aid of contrast enhancement. They entailed optical examination based on photometric analysis of images or on digital analysis. Both techniques are all the more promising in that they can be applied not to originals but to photos taken in ultraviolet or infrared light, thereby optimising images already obtained. Unfortunately, advances in this sphere, and especially the development of new and much more powerful )and expensive) tools, have not yet greatly benefited codicological studies.

The shrewd application of a variety of techniques can sometimes yield excellent results. Miracles should not be expected, however. If a text has been thoroughly scraped or washed away, so that no trace of ink remains, it is pointless to expect to be able to decipher anything at all. This applies notably to owners’ marks, which were often thoroughly removed, depriving researchers of precious information on the history of a manuscript.

Finally, inscriptions were sometimes made on parchment with a stylus. Such notes are usually hard to make out. Photographs taken in oblique light can make them easier to read.

Identifying pigments and colouring materials

Besides those already mentioned, there are other ways in which laboratory techniques can assist the codicologist. Over the past forty years, physiochemical analysis of pigments and other colorants used in manuscripts has made great strides, not only in terms of the quality and accuracy of results obtained but also in terms of greater ease of analysis. A major factor in this has been the miniaturisation of certain pieces of equipment that can now be carried easily to the place where the manuscript is kept. It can be very risky to transfer a manuscript to a scientific laboratory, and it may therefore be wiser to remove microscopic samples when the apparatus to be used is not portable.

Several types of microanalysis yield quite valuable results even when only tiny samples are available, their minuteness being limited above all by the difficulty of handling them. Among the methods available, it is worth distinguishing between, on the one hand, elementary analysis techniques (the most common of which is currently electronic microscopy combined with energy-dispersion x-ray spectroscopy, or EDXS) and, on the other, various methods of structural or compound analysis (such as infrared absorption spectrometry, UV-visible fluorescence spectrometry, mass spectrometry, and Raman spectrometry). In recent years, such tools have been adapted for the study of minute samples, giving birth to new microspectrometric techniques (infrared and Raman microspectrometry). On the other hand, techniques of nuclear analysis (by neutron or proton activation) - which are highly sensitive methods of elementary analysis - can be used to reveal minute traces of elements within a sample, thus supplying precious information on the source of a material. No one method, however, can alone answer all the questions that arise, and it often happens that the same microscopic sample is subjected to several successive tests. It is therefore important that the sample not be destroyed or significantly altered during the process of analysis.

It is not surprising that the examination of a microscopic sample, even when it proves feasible, can be time-consuming and sometimes costly. These drawbacks can make it hard to justify increasing the number of measurements in order to aid potential comparisons. Equipment that can be easily transported to the site where the manuscript is kept and that provides colour measurements through reflective spectrometry has recently been developed by Bernard Guineau at the Institut sur les Archéomatériaux (CNRS) in Orléans, France.[29] Because the time required for measurement by this technique is very brief, multiple measurements can be taken, especially since their cost is not prohibitive.

Thanks to the great number of measurements that can be made of a single painting, the palette used by an artist can be determined. Comparison of results obtained from different works ascribed to the same artist provides a crucial means of evaluation which can confirm or contradict conclusions based on stylistic analysis alone. It is also interesting to check whether the results of scientific examination corroborate the formulae for colours recorded in mediaeval texts.


In recent years, laboratories have attempted to date old parchments by using Carbon-14 techniques. A promising method in theory, it is only really useful if a sufficient number of items are available for comparison in a given region. Furthermore, the size of the sample that needs to be removed for analysis is often too large to allow its use, even though the quantities required for analysis have been reduced to less than one square centimetre, in certain cases. Finally, such tests require the use of apparatus that is scarce and therefore very costly.

Whatever technique is used, a single measurement taken in isolation is of little significance; and multiple measurements only provide usable information if, prior to analysis, a precise modus operandi has been established through close collaboration between the physical chemist and the palaeographer or codicologist. Laboratory technicians need to know what is expected of them in order to be able to suggest the most appropriate techniques and to explain, when necessary, the limitations of current methods.

Codicology and its focus of study

Just as the very name of the discipline of codicology makes its object of study-codices - obvious, so any qualifying adjectives reveal how tricky it can be to define a specific field of application. To dodge that difficulty by calling this book ‘An Introduction to Codicology’ would rightly be considered misleading.

For the moment, the field seems to be broken down into ‘regional’ divisions. Yet a strict geographical division is impossible here, since the manuscripts in question were copied in places ranging from the Atlantic Ocean to the China Sea, from the Straits of Zanzibar to the shores of the Volga. Nor would using the term ‘Islamic’ be altogether satisfactory, for it would eliminate texts composed, and manuscripts copied, by members of other faiths even though those manuscripts are related, if only partially, to a larger group. Finally, readers will recognise that a definition limited by language would be, if not incorrect, at least premature. For although it is not unthinkable that some day a specialised codicology of (for example) Persian or Ottoman Turkish manuscripts may emerge, the bilingualism, indeed, trilingualism, of many copyists must be taken into account. How, then, can precise boundaries be established, when the same person may have written texts in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish? The least unsatisfactory solution, then, involves definition by reference to the Arabic script, which is the common denominator of this set of manuscripts written in a range of languages and originating from immensely diverse cultural and geographical regions.

This serves to highlight once again the still rudimentary state of our knowledge, in that the number of thoroughly studied manuscripts remains infinitesimal compared to the tens of thousands of volumes theoretically covered by this field of study. The contents of the following chapters cannot therefore claim to represent anything more than a starting point for what should become increasingly accurate and diversified research. Nonetheless, it is the authors’ hope that our efforts to define and describe the most basic features of the codex will be useful to all those embarking on this fledgling but fascinating field of study.

[1] The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary dates the term to the mid-twentieth century; for the history of its French counterpart, codicologie, see Lemaire, Introduction, p. 1 (notes 1 and 2).

[2] There exists an extensive literature on the history of the manuscript book, especially for the period covering the emergence of the codex. See, for example, C.H. Roberts and T.C. Skeat, The Birth of the Codex; A. Blanchard (ed.), Les débuts du codex [Bibliologia 9] (Turnhout, 1989).

[3] They have continued, however, to be employed for almanacs until recent times, and for talismans down to the present day. In addition, the epistle of ‘Abd al-Masīḥ ibn Isḥāq al-Kindī claims that the early Muslims left the text of the Qur’ān in the form of leaves and rolls like the scrolls of the Jews, until the Caliph ‘Uthmān changed this practice. See P. Casanova, Mohammed et la fin du monde: étude critique sur l’islam primitif (Paris, 1911), p. 121; G. Troupeau, ‘al-Kindī’, El2-V, pp. 123-124.

[4] In referring to the Torah, the Qur’ān employs the specific term Tawra (Qur’ān III: 3, 48, 50, 65, 93; V: 43, 44, 46, 66, 68, 110; VII: 157; IX: 111; XLVIII: 29; LXI:6; LXII: 5), which implies that it was known to the Prophet’s listeners.

[5] S. Ory, ‘Un nouveau type de muṣḥaf: inventaire des corans en rouleaux de provenance damascaine, conservés à Istanbul’, REI 33 (1965), pp. 87-149.

[6] Grateful acknowledgement is due to J.J. Witkam for drawing our attention to this manuscript.

[7] For illustrations, see CHICAGO 1981, pp. 219-221, n0 94, colour plate O (Chicago, Or. Inst. A12100, late eighteenth century CE) and U. Derman, ‘Hat’, Sabancı Koleksiyonu, p. 49. Manuscripts in accordion form are common in certain regions of Southeast Asia.

[8] See the chapter ‘The Quires of a Codex’; also MUNICH 1982, p. 140 and fig. 24 (MS. Munich BSB Cod. arab. 2641, dating from the nineteenth century CE).

[9] Hence there is no ‘fold’, as normally there would be: see below.

[10] This is in fact part of a manuscript now dispersed between various collections. For the Paris leaves, see E. Tisserant, Specimina codicum orientalium, p. xxxii, pl. 42; R. Blachère, Introduction au Coran, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1959), pp. 96, 99, 100; G. Bergsträsser and O. Pretzl, ‘Die Geschichte des Korantexts’, GdQ, III (Leipzig, 1938), p. 254; Déroche, Cat. I/1, pp. 75-77. Other leaves are held in other collections: Cairo, Dār al-Kutub (see Moritz, Ar. Pal., pl. 1-12; A. N. Shebunin, ‘Kuficheskii Koran Khedivskoi Biblioteki v Kaire’, Zapiski Vostochnago Otdeleniia Imperatorskago Russkago Arkheologicheskago Obshchestυa 14 (1902), pp. 120-125) and Gotha, Forschungsbibliothek MS. Orient. A. 462 (see J. H. Möller, Paläographische Beiträge aus den herzoglichen Sammlungen in Gotha ]Erfurt, 1844], I, pl. XIV; H. C. von Bothmer, GoTHA 1997, pp. 105-107).

[11] For a discussion of ‘flesh side’, see chapter ‘Writing surface: Papyrus and parchment’.

[12] Other manuscripts may perhaps also belong to this group, in addition to MSS. Istanbul TIEM 51 and 52 and Paris BNF arabe 324 (see note 10 for bibliography): a Qur’ān in the Sayyidnā Husayn mosque in Cairo and the so-called ‘Qur’ān of ‘Uthmān’ preserved in Tashkent. It is difficult to tell from photographs whether the same arrangement was used in the Sayyidnā Husayn manuscript (which allegedly measures 60 x 70 cm, according to F. Neema, ‘Restaurado, el Corán más antiguo’, Excelsior, Sunday supplement [Mexico City, 25 July 1993]); cf. Ṣ. al-Munajjid, Dirāsāt fi ta’rīkh al-khaṭṭ al-‘Arabī mundh bidāyatih ilā nihāyat al-‘asr al-Umawī, pp. 53-54). For the Tashkent manuscript, see A. N. Shebunin, ‘Kuficheskii Koran Imperatorskoi Sankt-Petersburgskoi Publichnoi Biblioteki’, Zapiski Vostochnago Otdeleniia Imperatorskago Russkago Arkheologicheskago Obshchestυa, 6 (1891), pp. 75-81; Ṣ. al-Munajjid, op. cit., pp. 50-52; E. Rezvan, ‘The Qur’ān and its World: VI. Emergence of the Canon: the struggle for uniformity’, Manuscripta Orientalia, 4/2 (1998), p. 47, note 11 (bibliography of publications in Russian); compare the folios sold at Christie’s in London on 20 and 22 October 1993 (lots 225 and 225 A) and on 19 and 21 October 1993 (lots 29 and 30). The dimensions of these manuscripts seem to indicate parchment made from the skin of a goat, according to the figures given by Reed (Ancient skins, parchments and leathers, p. 130).

[13] That is, stitched through the entire thickness of a gathering along the inner margin, a short distance from the edge; see Muzerelle, Vocabulaire, p. 179.

[14] U. Dreibholz, ‘Der Fund von Sanaa: frühislamische Handschriften auf Pergament, in P. Rück (ed.), Pergament: Geschichte - Struktur - Restaurierung - Herstellung (Sigmmaringen, 1991), p. 301, note 9.

[15] D. James, After Timur: Qur’ans of the 15th and 16th centuries (London, 1992), pp. 18-23.

[16] See the next chapter, ‘The Writing surface: Paper’.

[17] Although somewhat dated, the proceedings of the symposium on Les techniques de laboratiore dans l’étude des manuscrits (Paris, 1974) offer a glimpse of the possibilities offered by such techniques. As regards identification of the composition of inks, pigments and dyes, a brief discussion of recent methods will be found later in this introduction; see also the chapter on ‘Instruments and preparations used in book production’. Finally, it is worth citing the long experience in this area acquired by the Istituto Centrale per la Patologia del Libro in Rome

[18] J. Berque, ‘The Koranic text: from revelation to compilation’, in G. Atiyeh (ed.), The Book in the Islamic World (New York, 1995), p. 25.

[19] F. Déroche, ‘The Ottoman roots of a Tunisian calligrapher’s tour de force’, in Z. Yasa Yaman (ed.), Sanatta etkileşim = Interactions in art (Ankara, 2000), pp. 106-109.

[20] KuWaIt 1985.

[21] Aspects of the issue of the respective roles of the two disciplines are discussed in Lemaire, Introduction, p. 3, notes 4 and 6

[22] Sellheim, Materialen 1 and 2. The term used by German specialists, Handschriftenkunde, is older and has a broader meaning than codicologie in French, which may explain this different tendency. In France, a similar standpoint was adopted with the founding of the Institut de Recherches et d’Histoire des Textes, where codicological studies place great emphasis on the history of texts.

[23] See the concluding chapter on ‘Codicology and the history of collections’.

[24] Denis Muzerelle, Vocabulaire codicologique: répertoire méthodique des termes français relatifs aux manuscrits ]Rubricæ, 1] (Paris, 1985).

[25] This section was written by Annie Berthier.

[26] Thanks to the latest techniques, it is sometimes no longer necessary to remove any sample at all from a manuscript; an illustrative example of these non-destructive methods can be found in the chapter on ‘Instruments and preparations used in book production’.

[27] This section was written by Bernard Guineau and Jean Vezin.

[28] Les techniques de laboratoire dans l’étude des manuscripts, L. Fossier and J. Irigoin (eds.), Déchiffrer les écritures effacées (Paris, 1990); Pigments et colorants de l’Antiquité et du Moyen Ȃge: teinture, peinture, enluminure, études historiques et physico-chimiques (Paris, 1990); M. Maniaci and P. F. Мunafò (eds.), Ancient and medieυal book materials and techniques, 2 vols. (Vatican City, 1993). Useful references can also be found in Linda L. Brownrigg (ed.), Making the medieυal book: techniques of production [Proceedings of the Fourth Conference of the Seminar in the History of the Book to 1500, Oxford, July 1992] (Los Altos Hills, 1995).

[29] B. Guineau, ‘Non-destructive analysis of organic pigments and dyes using Raman microprobe, microfluorometer or absorption microspectrometer’, Studies in conserυation 34 (1989), pp. 38-44.

Source note:
This was published in:
Islamic Codicology: an Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script_ Arabic version_ English version, 2005, Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, London, UK, pp. 11-23.
Back to Top