Explore artefacts made over a period of more than 1000 years in the heart of the Islamic world.
In no other culture do books have such a prominent place as in the Islamic tradition. Islam was the first religion to distinguish between the faiths that were based on a written revelation (including Judaism and Christianity) and those that were not, placing crucial value in the written record of God’s word. As a result, the Muslim scripture – the Qur’an – provided the ideal context for the development of arts such as calligraphy, illumination, and book binding.
Science and literature were also major catalysts for the production of books, encouraging the evolution of book painting very early on. Essential to the process was the rapid adoption of paper across the Islamic world during the 900s, which, by replacing parchment, made books cheaper to produce and easier to disseminate.
Finally, while books were the principal way to preserve and transmit knowledge, they also functioned as markers of social status. Rulers and princes collected prized copies of important works and sponsored the production of new texts, both religious and secular in content, in major urban centres and courtly ateliers. Individual taste and local traditions often led to distinctive schools of book production, which created some of the most celebrated masterpieces of Islamic art.
Exhibited here, and rotated every four months, are manuscripts drawn from the prestigious oriental collections of the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.