November 12, 2016
A show with more than 60 of the most important manuscripts of and about the Quran opened recently in Washington, DC.
The books and documents were created over more than a thousand years in countries across the Islamic world -- from North Africa to Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan.
“The Art of the Qu’ran” is the first major exhibition of its kind in the United States. It can be seen at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which is part of the world famous Smithsonian Institution.
Massumeh Farhad is the chief curator of the Sackler Gallery. She is also responsible for its collection of Islamic art.
She talked about the first thing visitors to the exhibit see -- a very colorful, large manuscript.
“It certainly is one of the biggest and certainly the heaviest. It weighs some 60 kilos and it is quite remarkable. Many of these manuscripts were created primarily for display. They were given as gifts to mosques and, and mausolea.”
Most of the exhibit’s manuscripts are from The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts in Istanbul. Others are from the Smithsonian’s permanent collection.
The oldest were produced in 7th-century Damascus, Syria, while the most recent works are from 17th-century Istanbul.
Some works come from the burial places of Ottoman sultans in what is now Turkey. The sultans’ power once extended from southeast Europe to northern Africa and the Middle East.
“They were created for some of the most powerful sultans -- rulers in these regions. And eventually, after many years, they were acquired by the Ottoman royal family.”
Massumeh Farhad says although each book or document has the same wording, they look different in appearance. She says the skill of the artists has made each manuscript a special work of art.
“For instance, there is a manuscript by the calligrapher Yaqut, who is probably one of the greatest calligraphers to have ever worked in the Islamic world, from the late 12th -- early 13th century.”
The exhibit shows the beauty of the calligraphy and the extremely fine details of the Qurans. It also tells the stories of some of the manuscripts, their makers and earlier owners.
“We hope that visitors, whatever their interest, will come and take away some of these stories. Some, some may be interested in the calligraphy, some may be interested in particular calligraphers, or in the art of Illumination, and the way that the exhibition is organized we hope that we have something for all of the visitors.”
The Quran exhibit continues at the Sackler Gallery through February 20, 2017. Many parts of the show can be seen online.
I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.
VOA’s June Soh reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
manuscript – n. the original copy of a play, book, piece of music, etc., often before it has been printed
exhibition – n. an event at which objects (such as works of art) are put out in a public space for people to look at; a public show of something
curator – n. a person who is in charge of the things in a museum
remarkable – adj. unusual or surprising; likely to be noticed
mausolea – n. plural of mausoleum a stone building with places for the dead bodies of several people or the body of an important person
calligrapher – n. a person who writes with beautiful and artistic handwriting
particular – adj. used to indicate that one specific person or thing is being referred to and no others
Illumination – n. a gold or colored decoration in an old book