Islamic Manuscript Illumination

Manuscript illumination can be traced as far back as the 1st Century and is closely connected to Egyptian papyrology. By the 7th century, Muslim scribes had begun using art to adorn Islamic manuscripts.

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Inspired by their Carolingian and Byzantine counterparts, early Islamic artisans used art as a way to beautify Arabic calligraphy and the Qu’ran. Because of Islam’s aversion to idolatry, however, people and animals were never depicted in Muslim craft. Instead, most Islamic manuscripts were decorated with beautiful floral motifs.

Islamic miniature painters seized upon the technique and applied it to their work with astounding results, depicting a plethora of diverse events such as bloody battles and gruesome executions and lavish royal weddings. Thankfully, and surprisingly, the vivid color schemes of Islamic manuscripts have remained unchanged throughout the centuries.

Muslim rulers and noblemen became enamored with manuscript illumination, so-much-so that average Islamic painters found themselves in high demand. Even clerics sought out the artisans to use their craft to beautify the Qu'ran and other Islamic manuscripts; a task that sometimes took years, or decades, to complete.

Because the task was so arduous and time consuming, and the materials were so expensive, the resulting manuscripts were seen as status symbols, their owners protecting them like gold treasure. Consequently, Islamic miniature painters and calligraphers were well-paid, some even receiving large estates from their wealthy and grateful clients.

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