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Near East Collection: Islamic Books and Bookbinding

Exhibit "Islamic Books and Bookbinding"

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Samples of contemporary binding

Despite the spread of technology, publishing houses have used Arabic calligraphy to give their product a unique character. The bibliographic information is rendered in ornate calligraphic style on the cover, while the short forms of the author and title are indicated on the spine; usually stamped and gilt. From the 1990s, Arab publishers, particularly in Lebanon, have added aesthetic and practical features to multivolume works. Often, these works show the bibliographic information stamped across the spines of the entire set, thus allowing an easy identification of the work once it is placed on the shelf.


The displayed examples consist of:

1) A single volume modern work on the history of Lebanon from 1110 to 1291 by Umar Tadmuri, published in Lebanon in 1997.

2) A 1994 two-volume edition from Libya of a medieval work on Islamic law, Kitab al-Hasil min al-mahsul fi usul al-fiqh, by the Syrian Shafiite Siraj al-Din al-Urmawi (d. 1283), showing the repetition of the short bibliographical information on the spine.

3) A 15 volume edition of Jami` al-usul fi ahadith al-Rasul, by al-Mubarak ibn Muhammad ibn al-Athir (d. 1209), an Iraqi scholar of Hadith (Sayings of Prophet Muhammad), published in Beirut in 1998, showing the bibliographical information stamped across the full set.


Stamped and gilt binding
(1749 A.D. / 1162 A.H.)

Khusru va Shirin. A work by the famous Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi (d. 1202 or 1203).
Ornate Persian Nasta`liq script.

The quality of workmanship indicates that this manuscript (copied in Kashmir in 1749) was commissioned by a patron.

Beinecke; Persian ms. 14


Lacquered binding
(17th cent.)

Divan-i Hafiz. A Collection of poems by the famous Iranian poet Hafiz (14th cent.).
Nasta`liq script.

This item reflects the decorative styles that developed with the introduction of lacquered bindings.

Beinecke; Persian ms. 214


European influence
(ca. 18th cent.)

Farhang-i Jahangiri. A Persian dictionary written by Husayn ibn Hasan Inju Shirazi (d. ca. 1626).
Nasta`liq script.

This large binding reflects European influence both in the shapes of the floral stamps and in the lack of a protective flap. The application of paint in place of a stamped border is a feature of later leather bindings, particularly for manuscripts produced for commercial sales rather than for wealthy patrons.

Beinecke; Persian ms. +15


Lacquered binding
(1791 A.D. / 1206 A.H.)

Tarikh-i Nadiri. A history of Nadir Shah Afshar, who ruled Iran from 1736 to 1747, written in Persian by Mahdi Khan Astarabadi (d. 1759), his secretary and court historian.
Nasta`liq script.

This richly painted leather binding from Iran combines the traditional medallion pattern with the floral style more typically found on lacquered bindings.

Beinecke; Persian mss. suppl. 62


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