0706 GMT September 18, 2021
When it comes to the creativity of Islamic illuminators, one should visit the National Museum of Karachi to take a glimpse of the beautifully illuminated Qur’anic manuscripts. These manuscripts convey the sense as to how artists from Arab to Samarqand, Bukhara, Balkh, Central Asia and Iran found different ways to honor the same sacred text of Islam.
While carefully observing the manuscripts, I was awestruck by the strong explosion of blue bursting out from some of the manuscripts. This blue pigment was produced from Afghanistan’s mineral treasure of lapis lazuli, which has given a mesmerising effect to the pages of the Holy Qur’an. The stone has a unique feature of gold streaks striking through blue, which is not available in any part of the world. The splash of blue is extravagant in illuminated artworks adorned with a lavish use of gold and marjan, or ruby. Although the color of lapis lazuli has been used as a strong base to intensify the beauty of the copies, it does not hurt the human eye.
The Qur’an illumination is a comprehensive part of Islamic arts preserved in the custody of the National Museum of Karachi. It reminds us of how much we don’t know but, given a chance like this, will love to learn about a religion, culture and creativity lived by and treasured by a quarter of the world’s population. At the Qur’an Gallery here there is a major display of handwritten copies of Islam’s holy text. It’s a glorious show and utterly like nothing I have ever seen. The outburst of colours in the ornate pieces exhibits a common theme among the artists of all ages, while their concept and embellishment remained united with a single idea of reverence for God, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the principles of Islam.
The artwork of these rare manuscripts displays bright and blooming colours, and stand out from the pack of contemporary manuscripts as the producers of the past had an unsaid unison of deep reverence that cannot be seen or even touched. They must have felt with their hearts to unite together on a single page to create the masterpieces of documents. Written in finest quality of Kufic calligraphy and embellished with geometrical and vegetal motifs, these manuscripts are a kaleidoscope of gold, red, blue and rarely green.
To produce these costly manuscripts, colours were generated from precious and semi-precious stones or metals. In most of the manuscripts, gold dominated the scheme, as inlaid work and decorative designs were made from pigments of precious stones like coral, ruby, cinnabar and garnets. But the magic of lapis lazuli appears as supreme force of creativity.
*Shazia Tasneem is a writer at The Express Tribune.