A Qur’an in Ghubari Script from Lucknow

Millon et Associés, 13 Dec. 2022, lot 409: €10,000-12,000

In collaboration with Anne-Sophie Joncoux-Pilorget

Sold €42,000 (incl. Premium).

The full catalogue of the auction is available here. I also contributed to lots 413 and 515, unsold.

India, Lucknow, end of 18th – beginning 19th century.

Manuscript in Arabic, 31 leaves, calligraphy in “ghubari” in black ink on 49 lines per page, golden lines lined in black, framed by several golden, red and blue lines. Titles of suras in white in illuminated cartouche. Each page is adorned with wide margins with scrolls enlivened with iris and poppy flowers, painted in gold enhanced with red and green. The manuscript opens and ends with a polychrome and illuminated floral composition framed by four birds.

Binding with stamped and gilt decoration.

27.3 x 19 cm

Ghubari is a script of choice for the production of talismanic objects or miniature Qur’ans, as it allows the entire Qur’anic text to be written on a small surface.

The production of this manuscript can be located in the Awadh region and most certainly in Lucknow, the main place of residence of the nawabs of the region from 1775 onward. The profusion of gold in the marginal illuminated decorations and within the Qur’anic text reflects a prestigious patronage. The illuminated Awadhi production of the end of the 18th century is still little known, but the marginal scrolls and the floral compositions can be compared to other Awadh productions, in particular textiles and enamelled silver work. The floral motifs are indeed similar, including the symmetrical five-petalled irises, present in the margins of our Qur’an, the four-petalled cruciform red poppy flowers, and the stylized diamond-shaped six-petalled roses, seen in the flowers arrangements. See for comparison the huqqa base in the LACMA (M.2005.95), the betel box in the LACMA (AC1993.137.1.1-2) and the katar sheath in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (2003.49).

These highly decorative floral compositions surrounded by animals were particularly popular at the end of the 18th century, in the Awadh region, but also in Rajasthan and the Deccan. Many examples are known, for example in the Aga Khan collection (AKM00117), or in an album kept in the Dar al-Kutub library in Cairo (Tarikh Farsi 66). However, the motif here is enhanced with gold, further highlighting the great refinement of our manuscript.

  • Brijinder N. Goswamy, Eberhard Fischer (eds.), Wonders of a Golden Age: Painting at the Court of the Great Mughals; Indian Art of the 16th and 17th Centuries from Collections in Switzerland (Zürich: Museum Rietberg, 1987), 40, cat. 10.
  • Stephen Markel, ‘“The Blaze of Wealth and Magnificence”: The Luxury Arts of Lucknow’, in Stephen Markel and Tushara Bindu Gude (ed.), India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2010), 199–226.