Raqqada, Kairouan, Tunisia
Museum of Islamic Art
Hegira, end of the 3rd–beginning of 4th centuries / AD 9th–10th centuries
Poplar-wood press-board covered with decorated leather.
Length 17.2 cm, width 8 cm, thickness 0.6 cm
Back-board. Italian format. The red-brown dye of the leather has turned black at the edges.
The panel is covered with wicker-like strap-work tooled with fringe markings enclosing roundels. The central rope is twisted into three knots. The border consists of four linear frames. The second frame is decorated with a twisted rope motif and a fringe with roundels. The leather covers a panel of what appears to be poplar, on the back of which is glued a piece of parchment.
The decoration applied to this binding follows the style in fashion at the time in Ifriqiya. Twisted rope, plaiting, curled interlacing and chequer-work are all in fact used in the minbar (preacher's chair) of the Great Mosque at Kairouan, which bears the stamp of Syrian Umayyad art, with its heritage of Byzantine themes, and which also evokes Abbasid art with its profound Sassanid influences. However, these arguments do not allow us to conclude that the Kairouan bookbinding was influenced by Syria. Several links in the chain are missing. Furthermore, the books bound at Kairouan seem to borrow their decoration from a repertoire that was familiar to the Christians and which the Copts used to extraordinary effect. In fact, it is likely that the binding is one of the acquisitions through which Christian Egypt contributed to the enrichment the Muslim world.
Other identical bindings have been found still glued to the volumes of the Qur'ans to which they had belonged. Palaeographic study of their writing dates them very accurately from the end of the 3rd to the beginning of the 4th century (9th / 10th). Moreover, a Damascene binding definitely dating from the year 270 (883) shows a remarkable resemblance to this Kairouanese binding.
After the abolition of the habus foundation in Tunisia, this binding board was obtained by the Museum of the Great Mosque of Kairouan in 1963. It has been displayed in the Museum of Islamic Art at Raqqada since 1986.
This binding belonged to the old library of the Great Mosque of Kairouan which was left abandoned in the maqsura of the prayer hall. During the 1930s it was re-classified after being discovered by some well-informed visitors. Most of the bindings were separated from the Qur'ans to which they belonged and this one suffered the same fate. This and the other bindings are almost certainly Kairouanese, since the town was a great centre of book production at the time.
De Carthage a Kairouan (exhibition catalogue), 1982, p.234, cat. no. 319.
Tunez, Tierra de Culturas (exhibition catalogue), Valencia, 2004, p.228.
Tunisie, terre de rencontres et de civilisation (Seville exhibition catalogue), Tunis, 1992, p.262.
Marcais, G. and Poinssot, L., Objets Kairouanais, I, Tunis-Paris, 1948, p.116, plate VI B.
Ifriqiya: Thirteen Centuries of Art and Architecture in Tunisia, pp.159–62, 182–3.
Mourad Rammah "Leather binding" in Discover Islamic Art , Museum With No Frontiers, 2019. http://www.museumwnf.org/thematicgallery/thg_galleries/database_item.php?itemId=objects;ISL;tn;Mus01;8;en&id=leatherwork
Prepared by: Mourad RammahMourad Rammah
Né en 1953 à Kairouan, docteur en archéologie islamique, Mourad Rammah est le conservateur de la médina de Kairouan. Lauréat du prix Agha Khan d'architecture, il publie divers articles sur l'histoire de l'archéologie médiévale islamique en Tunisie et participe à différentes expositions sur l'architecture islamique. De 1982 à 1994, il est en charge du département de muséographie du Centre des arts et des civilisations islamiques. Mourad Rammah est également directeur du Centre des manuscrits de Kairouan.
Copyedited by: Margot Cortez
Translation by: David Ash
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: TN 12
On display in
Exhibition(s) Discover Islamic Art
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