Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum
Around Hegira 730 / AD 1330
Made by Muhammad ibn Sunqur al-Baghdadi, inlay by Hadj Yusuf ibn al-Ghawabi.
Bronze sheets on a wooden core, gold and silver inlay.
Height 27 cm, width 42.5 cm, depth 42.5 cm
This Qur’an box was constructed to contain a Qur’an made of 30 fascicles. It was probably produced at the request of a Mamluk sultan or a high dignitary, in order for them to donate it to a religious foundation (mosque, madrasa or mausoleum).
The box, which is supported on four legs, consists of a square wooden box covered in brass plates. The sloping, desk-like lid is attached on the back by two hinges and has a buckle on the front through which to put a lock. Each brass plate is decorated and features inscriptions in gold and silver inlay. The inside of the box is upholstered in fabric and has two compartments, each with 15 divisions, in which to put a Qur’an. The outer sides are covered in Arabic inscriptions, in kufic and thuluth script, that protrude from the surface; the calligraphy covers a backdrop composed of small-scale plants including lotus blossoms. Quotations from the Qur’an run along the length of the outer surfaces (Sura 24 verse 35 and Sura 2 verse 255 ‘Ayat al-Kursi’). More quotations are found on the desk-like lid and on the narrow inscription friezes (Sura 3 verses 26–7, Sura 26 verses 192–9, Sura 56 verses 76–89 and 92–5, and Sura 59 verses 22–4). The underside is decorated with geometric patterns.
Both a name and the 30 Qur’an fascicles are missing. Two related Qur’an boxes from the same period, around AH 730 / AD 1330, have survived in Cairo. One of these displays the name of the Mamluk sultan al-Nasir Muhammad and the date AH 723 / AD 1322. It now belongs to the library of al-Azhar mosque. The second, undated, box is housed in the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo.
In Mamluk Egypt, Qur’ans were usually kept in boxes (sunduq) or in freestanding metal cabinets (kursi). Because they were used constantly, few of the actual Qur’ans survived.
This square box, supported on four legs, was made to hold a now missing Qur’an of 30 separate volumes, which were placed in two rows of 15 compartments. Magnificently executed Qur’anic inscriptions in different scripts lavishly decorate the exterior in gold and silver.
The name of the maker of this Qur’an box also appears on a tall kursi (an octagonal cabinet which houses a Qur’an) housed in the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, and dated to 727–8 / 1327–8. It is thought that the Berlin Qur’an box dates from the same period.
Acquired from a private art gallery in Cairo in 1904 through B. Moritz.
Inlaid Qur’an boxes such as this one were only known in Mamluk Egypt, and it was here where they were also made.
The Arts of Islam, Catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 8 April – 4 July 1976, London, 1976, no. 214.
Atil, E., Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks, Washington, 1981, no. 25.
Islamic Art in Egypt 969–1517, Catalogue, Cairo, 1969, nos. 60–2.
James, D., Qur’ans of the Mamluks, London, 1988.
Zaky, M. H., Atlas of Moslem Decorative Arts, Cairo, 1956, fig. 512.
Jens Kröger "Qur’an box" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;de;Mus01;31;en
Prepared by: Jens KrögerJens Kröger
Jens Kröger is a historian of Islamic art and archaeology. He studied European art history and Ancient Near Eastern archaeology at the Free University of Berlin and obtained his Ph.D. in 1978 on Sasanian and early Islamic stucco (Sasanidischer Stuckdekor, Mainz: von Zabern, 1982). As a curator at the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, he has participated in numerous exhibitions and published on the subject of pre-Islamic and Islamic art, including Nishapur: Glass of the Early Islamic Period (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995), and edited Islamische Kunst in Berliner Sammlungen (Berlin, 2004).
Translation by: Maria Vlotides, Brigitte Finkbeiner
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen
MWNF Working Number: GE 41
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)Arabic Calligraphy | The Holy Qur’an
Virtual Visit Exhibition Trail
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