Friday, November 8, 2013

Mystical Text

An illuminated page of Arabic text.Preparing for a class this week, we came across a tantalizing manuscript that we know little about: a Sufi devotional text created in the mid to late 18th century. It takes the same form as most Islamic manuscript prayer books of the time. It is in a wallet binding with the text framed in gold. Glossed instructions and comments radiate away from the text at angles defined by blind pressed grid lines. Decorative floral patterns luxuriously fill the empty spaces to create a surprising and satisfying page layout.

An open page showing two enclosed and illuminated illustrations of single roses.
But this text has something special. About a third of the way through the prayers, there is a two-page illuminated spread. Two images of a rose set into an intricate border mirror each other.  When the book is closed, they come together as a single rose, complete only when not seen. The opening, so different from the rest of the book, offers a moment to ponder Sufi mysticism: it encompasses light/illumination, unity/division, and a completeness that cannot be seen--only experienced in the mind.

To see it, ask for Codex MS 001883.

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