We are accustomed to the Chester Beatty Library producing astoundingly beautiful objects and putting them on display for us to look at – but even by the library’s standards, the Ruzbihan Koran is something special. Its pages glow with lapis lazuli and gold, with reds and greens, pinks and desert sands, orange and ice blue.
In the mid-sixteenth century, in the city of Shiraz, in southwestern Iran, a large and magnificent copy of the Qur’an was produced (CBL Is 1558). The manuscript’s renown has traditionally rested with the name of its calligrapher— Ruzbihan Muhammad al-Tab‘i al-Shirazi—but it is equally the quality, extent and complexity of its decorative programme—the work of a team of highly skilled, yet anonymous artists and craftsmen—that sets it apart from most other 16th-century Persian Qur’ans.
In 2012 the manuscript was disbound to allow for conservation. The close examination of the loose folios that took place during and after conservation has revealed much about the materials used and procedures involved in producing the manuscript, and this exhibition presents many of these intriguing findings.
Thirty-two single folios and double-page openings from the Ruzbihan Qur’an are fully displayed in the exhibition, with another 21 folios partially displayed to facilitate discussion of the pigments used. Three other 16th-century Qur’ans and a 15th-16th-century manual on Qur’an recitation, all from the Library’s own collections, are also on display.