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Islamic Manuscript Illumination

Manuscript Illumination started around the first century AD and is related to Egyptian papyrology (the art of ancient writing and painting on papyrus). The pages of the books were made out of  goat or sheep skins - called parchment or vellum. Islamic illuminators were inspired by Carolingian and Byzantine prototypes.  The Koran contains beautiful calligraphy,  and embellishment but was never illustrated with figures.  Most Korans began and ended with double pages of ornamentation and incorporated intricate surah-chapter-headings and marginal decorations. Muslim illuminators favored elaborately stylized vegetable and floral motifs.

Islamic miniature painters were famous for their vivid colours, elegant brushwork,  ornamental borders and masterful calligraphy. Favorite themes included, fierce military battles, public beheadings and imperial ceremonies.  Amazingly the vivid and dazzling colors have not changed with time.

Manuscript illumination was  adored by Islamic rulers and high-ranking nobles.  Painters were regularly commissioned by royalty and Muslim clerics.  Supplies were extremely costly, and included ground up precious stones and gold and silver leaf. The labour involved was tremendous and illustrated manuscripts often took years and sometimes decades to complete. Only the rich and powerful could afford to purchase such masterpieces. Most members of ruling elite had a collection of specially commissioned illuminated manuscripts. These books were status symbols and considered to be as precious as gold. The finest miniature painters and calligraphers were famous, highly sought after for their incredible talent. They often  received sumptuous gifts and even estates from their rich patrons.

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