Qantara Qantara

Hymns and prayers in Bohairic Coptic and Arabic, bound in leather

  • Title/name : Hymns and prayers in Bohairic Coptic and Arabic, bound in leather
  • Production place : Cyprus
  • Discovery place : St Benham Coptic Church, Nicosia, Cyprus
  • Date / period :

    Sixteenth century  

  • Materials and techniques : Western paper; leather binding with decorations stamped in blind
  • Dimensions : Height: 20.5cm; length: 14cm
  • Conservation town : Paris
  • Conservation place : Bibliothèque Nationale de France
  • Inventory number : Eastern manuscripts, Copte 9 (157 ff.)

This work was brought back from Cyprus by Johann Michael Vansleb, who had been sent by Jean-Baptiste Colbert to Nicosia to acquire works for the Royal Library. It had originally been bequeathed to the St Benham Coptic Church in Nicosia by Jean, Bishop of Cyprus.

The island, which had been part of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, was conquered by Richard the Lion-heart in 1171, who sold it to Guy of Lusignan in 1192. It was under Venetian control from 1489 to 1571, and then Ottoman rule up until the nineteenth century.

A Coptic community is known to have existed on the island since 1171, when the Fātimid Caliph al-Ḥākim’s religious persecution of Christians in Egypt led to the emigration of many Christians.

 

Artistic works produced in Cyprus, the last bastion of Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean after the fall of Saint Jean d’Acre in 1291, embodied the cultural pluralism that existed in the Near-Eastern Mediterranean region between the Islamic, Christian, and Byzantine communities. The Coptic bookbinding of religious works that was developed in Cyprus was very much a part of this.

The manuscript is bilingual—it is written in Bohairic Coptic [1] and Arabic—, a practice that had existed in Egypt since the tenth century. This was a reflection of the progressive decline of the Coptic language and the increase in the number of Arab-speaking readers, resulting from the Arabization of Egypt since its conquest in the seventh century[2].

Italian paper, ornamented with filigree work that marks the beginning of a paragraph, was commonly used in manuscripts copied in Cyprus during this period. The use of Western paper reflects the decline in the use of paper from the eastern Mediterranean, which—from the eighth century (when the Arabs imported paper-making from China) to the middle of the thirteenth century—was the preferred support for writing throughout the Mediterranean world.

The technical characteristics of the leather binding are similar to those found in Byzantine bookbinding: it is interesting to note that the dimension of the press-boards is exactly the same as that of the body of the book, whereas the press-boards in Arab and Western bookbinding are slightly larger than the body. The process of assembling a book with press-boards consisted of stitching the edge of the book onto large flat bands, a technique that wasn’t used in Greek[3] and Islamic bookbinding[4], but which is found in Western bookbinding.

The technique of blind stamping decorations on the leather was common in the Byzantine, Islamic, and Western worlds. The absence of gold is characteristic of Byzantine bookbinding, whereas gold was used widely—but not systematically—in Islamic bookbinding.

The decoration on the front board is composed of a central rectangle surrounded by four lateral areas at the top, bottom, and sides of the board. The central area is delineated by a large band ornamented with a network of small diamonds enclosing squares sitting on their corners. In the middle of this area there’s a lozenge motif composed of knot scrolls, punctuated with four small drop-like motifs, which are also found in the four corners. There’s also a knot motif in each of the four lateral areas around the central rectangle.

This type of motif, which is commonly found in artistic works from Islamic countries, seems to have originated in the Islamic decorative arts. The knot scroll was particularly common in works of art produced by Islamic people of Turkish origin[5]. The motif consisting of a network of diamonds and, more generally, repetitive compositions based on geometric motifs covering surfaces, are widespread in Islamic art.

 

 

 

NOTE

[1] This dialect, which is spoken in the Nile Delta  , has been the liturgical language of the Coptic Church since the tenth century.

[2] In the twelfth century, the Coptic Church in Egypt made Arabic its official language.

[3] In Byzantine bindings, the edge of the book was sown directly onto the back of the leaves, which were cut with notches.

[4] In Islamic bindings, the edge of the book was glued to the back of the leaves and the press-boards with a piece of cloth.

[5] See, for example, the door-knocker with dragons, south-east Turkey, Al Jazeera, beginning of the thirteenth century, caste bronze with engraved decorations, Davids Samling Collection, Copenhagen inv. 38 / 1973.

BIBLIOGRAPHY RELATED TO THE ITEM

L’art copte en Égypte, 2000 ans de christianisme, (exhibition catalogue, Institut du monde arabe, Paris, 2000), Paris: IMA/Gallimard, 2000, p. 68, No. 42.

REFERENCE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Déroche, F., ‘La reliure’, in Manuel de codicologie des manuscrits en écriture arabe, Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 2000, pp. 275–326

Irigoin, J., Le livre grec des origines à la Renaissance, Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 2001, pp. 74–94

Lenormand, S., Nouveau manuel complet du relieur en tous genres, Paris: Mulo, 1900, [online], available on <http://www.moulinduverger.com/reliure-manuelle/roret.php>, (consulted on 18 September 2008).

L’Orient de Saladin, (exhibition catalogue, Paris, Institut du monde arabe, 2001), Paris: Gallimard, 2001.



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Venice
Venice
Western Europe
Western Europe
Binding
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Book arts
Book arts
Furniture and religious objects
Furniture and religious objects
Religious life
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Plant patterns
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