Probably copied in Egypt, this 10th-century Qur’an is written in Eastern kufic script on vellum.

The manuscript

The design of its ornate frontispiece, or carpet pages, is an arabesque decoration in gold – interwoven flowing patterns of floral motifs – with overlapping chain-patterns in white. From around the 10th century onwards we see a gradual movement towards a more elaborate illumination of Qur’ans. The carpet pages shown here are one of the finest early examples in the British Library’s collection of Qur’an manuscripts.

What is a carpet page?

The single or double frontispiece, designed with full-page illuminations, are sometimes referred to as ‘carpet’ pages since their appearance resembles oriental carpets. Although carpet pages do not fall strictly within the realm of the sacred text, the illuminator was aware of the opportunity not only to display his artistry but also to set the sacred tone of the volume in order to prepare the reader mentally and spiritually for its contents. In architectural terms, opening a Qur’an volume might be compared to entering a sacred building, with the carpet page as the gateway or portal to the holy text itself. Its role is thus similar to that of the courtyard of a mosque, which, acting as a transitional link between the everyday world and the spiritual, helps the believer to achieve an appropriate state of mind and composure before entering the prayer hall.