About the collection

The Middle Eastern Manuscript Collection comprises scripts in Arabic and Persian, as well as Turkish, Urdu, Ethiopic, Syriac, Hebrew, Sanskirt, Pushtu, Prakrit and Mongol. Included are Islamic religious texts, Qur’ans and commentary on the Qur’an, as well as significant poetic works, educational textbooks and writing on history, biography, astrology, mathematics, philosophy and weaponry.

This amazing collection is a path to knowledge – come look inside these manuscripts to see all they have to offer and the potential for discovery.

Exhibition highlights

The collection

The Middle East has long been a centre of teaching, learning, trade and exchange. The manuscripts that Professor Bowman collected were created in important centres of culture and education, in workshops devoted to book production.

Many of the manuscripts contain inscriptions and other provenance documentation that is evidence of the trade journeys of the manuscripts. The names of key people feature prominently in the collection; the collectors, traders and dealers who commissioned them, used them, and bought, sold and traded them.

MUL 184

The makers

Across the Middle East master papermakers, calligraphers, illuminators, and bookbinders had important ateliers where they practiced their art and sold their work. In these workshops they also trained the next generation of artists and artisans. Many produced education resources such as treatises that contain information on their practice and recipes used in the creation of the manuscripts. Research using historical treatises provides detailed information about the manuscripts in their place of origin. Such information is very useful when examining the manuscripts; assisting with accurate documentation, helping to understand deterioration, and informing the choice for scientific analysis.

Understanding the raw materials and the recipes used in the manufacture of these materials provides insights into what materials were available and where they were available, and how they were used to create the paper and inks used in manuscript production.

UV manuscript

The paper

The 11th century treatise of Ibn Badis from Samarqand describes in great detail the preparation and production of handmade papers. Paper makers collected the raw flax reed, moistening and combing it until it became soft. The softened reed was soaked, dried and washed over many days. It was then pounded in a mortar until very fine and then slowly dissolved in fresh water to obtain a silky viscosity. The flax was finally beaten by hand and laid down as a flat sheet attached to a wall to dry.

By the thirteenth century, after the introduction of paper making techniques into Europe by the Moors, European papers were also used in Middle Eastern manuscript production. These European papers are easily identified by their watermarks, the faint impressions captured within the paper fibres during manufacture which are the trademark of a specific paper mill.

Manuscript watermark

The inks

Carbon ink is the oldest ink created and was used in Egypt as early as the 4th millennium BCE. Carbon ink is extremely stable; however, it stays on the surface of the paper and can be removed physically. Iron-gall ink dates between the 2nd-4th century. This ink stains the paper fibres, and it is permanent. However due to its acidity and the reactive nature of transitional metals, it eventually starts to decay the paper. Persian master calligraphers tried to create an ideal ink which has the stability of carbon ink and the permanency of iron-gall ink (but without its destructive nature). Their solution was an ink made with all the ingredients of both inks in set proportion and measurements. This recipe is given in the form of poetry.

MicroViewer image of manuscript

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