Papermaking, calligraphy, illumination, paper marbling, and gold-tooled goatskin bindings define fine bookmaking and are generally associated with western and continental books. However, mastery of these book arts was transmitted to Europe through the Middle East during the Middle Ages. Although the Chinese pioneered papermaking and printing with movable type, in Medieval times, all roads from China to continental Europe passed through the Middle East and North Africa. These societies of the Near East were rooted in ancient Greek, Roman, and Hellenic learning and were hungry for any emerging technologies related to books, especially those that emphasized beauty and glorified the written word.
In our current Books & Manuscripts online auction we are privileged to offer fourteen examples of Arabic and Persian manuscripts produced between 1461 and 1852. This group of text manuscripts, collected in Iran during the mid-20th century, represents the important branches of Arab and Persian learning of the time. Here we have calligraphy, Sufic Islamic mysticism, poetry, theology, astronomy, arithmetic, Shia prayers, philosophy, and medicine.
Books are simply the physical vessels contrived to hold and transmit text, and however beautifully crafted, they are created to serve a higher purpose. Even so, the artists who produced these manuscripts have created masterworks of craft worthy of celebration in their own right. Gold and blind-tooled morocco bindings, beautiful marbled endleaves, light-weight burnished papers, refined calligraphy, painted, gilt, and decorated borders and title pages are everywhere in evidence. These books are a celebration of text and art, and a reminder of the web of connections between European and Middle Eastern learning and bookmaking.