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Miniature Qur’an

While many manuscripts (miniature or otherwise) often lack a date or signature, this small, lavish Qur’an contains a colophon revealing the exact date of its completion, and a later owner’s mark naming one “Husayn ibn Ismaʿil,” and the year 1259 (1551). The inclusion of a falname (divination grid) in the manuscript reveals that the Qur’an was used for divinatory purposes.

Accession Number:

Lilly Library, Adomeit Miniature Islamic Manuscripts C12

Date and Location:

May 26, 1551, Safavid Iran


(see below)

Dimensions of Container:

8.1 (diameter) x 3.5 (case); and 27 x 1 cm (chain)


The manuscript features a regular binding made of gilt-stamped brown leather, although little of this ornamentation remains.

Dimensions of Folios:

6.3 x 5.7 cm

Dimensions of Written Surface:

3.8 x 3.8 cm

Number of Folios:


Average Number of lines of text per folio:




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This miniature Qur’an exhibits a degree of luxury matched only by one other volume among Adomeit’s Islamic manuscripts (Adomeit mss. C8). The qur’anic text is written in crisp naskh script (the alif measures 2 mm) on highly polished beige rag paper with visible chain lines. Recitation marks are indicated via small dots of red ink and the verse markers are executed using gold paint. The written surface is delineated by frames executed in blue and black ink and gold paint. Multiple illuminated panels and all constituent sura headings are decorated with liberal amounts of gold and lapis lazuli. A further touch of luxury is the insertion of an in-leaf against the upper and lower doublures. Both folios are cut from a larger sheet of marbled paper and feature a nearly-identical swirled pattern composed of pink, green, and blue hues.

Fortunately, a colophon at the base of folio 277v securely dates the manuscript to 20 Jumada I, 958 (May 26, 1551). A Safavid provenance is corroborated by the appearance of a falname (Book of Divination) directly after the terminal prayer (duʿa-yi khatim) that closes the qur’anic text. Indeed, a Persian provenance places this miniature Qur’an within the orbit of Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524-76) and his documented interest in divination, resulting in the royal commission of at least one large-scale illustrated falname sometime around 1550. The falname in the Adomeit manuscript consists of a multi-folio divination grid (279r–280r) attributed to Jaʿfar al-Sadiq (d. 148/765). This is preceded by detailed instructions to any reader seeking guidance (istikhara). These instructions outline a short regimen of prayers and suras to be recited prior to the selection of a specific letter within the Qur’an, which is then compared to the alphabetic entries within the divination grid to determine the correct course of action.

The volume rests inside two containers. The first is a form fitting, octagonal cardboard box overlaid with decorative silver paper bearing an elegant floral pattern in blue. The second is a round metal case featuring an elaborately looped chain. The lid of the case is ornamented with an architectural scene executed in repoussé, and the base is decorated with the six-sided seal of Solomon. The cumbersome size and heft of the case, combined with the short length of the chain, suggests that it was most suited to suspension from an object (potentially one with a modest circumference). The insertion of a miniature Qur’an inside a metal case naturally evokes the Ottoman Turkish tradition of the sancak Qur’an, wherein miniature Qur’ans encased in boxes or pouches were attached to the shaft or finial of the military standards that accompanied the Ottoman army to the battlefield. The overhanging lip of the lid is perforated by three small holes, which could have been used to rivet the container shut.

For further examples of Safavid miniature Qur’ans, see Safwat, Golden Pages, 70-71 (cat. 10); 72-73 (cat. 11); 194-97 (cat. 47) and de Guise, Al-Quran: The Sacred Art, 192-93 (cat. 34). For general discussions of divination by the Qur’an, see Christiane Gruber, “Divination,” vol. 2, 210; Tourkin, “The Use of the Qur’an for Divination in Iran,” 387–94; Welch, The Falnameh (Book of Divination) of Shah Tahmasp,” 94-99; and Tokatlian, Falnamah, 2007. This specimen is described in the Union List of Arabic Manuscripts, cat. no. 11; and Adomeit Personal Inventory Sheets, cat. no. 15.