Smithsonian Freer Gallery Sackler Gallery National Museum of Asian Art Gallery Guide Arts of the Islamic World
IntroductioncalligraphyAbstract DesignArts of the Bookpage 1page 2page 3The Art of the Object

Manuscript production in the Islamic world was a collaborative enterprise—calligraphers, painters, illuminators, and bookbinders worked together to create a unified ensemble that was generally intended for a relatively restricted and highly literate audience.

Most luxury manuscripts were produced in libraries and workshops attached to a royal or princely household. Following the patron's specifications, the head librarian would determine and supervise the layout and production of a manuscript. After the calligrapher had transcribed the text, the folios would be passed on to one or more painters, who would first outline the composition with fine brushes—ideally made from squirrel hair—and then apply the color. Pigments were prepared from plant, mineral, and animal substances and included gold, silver, and lapis lazuli, which would be mixed with a binding medium, such as gum arabic. Once the manuscript was completed, the folios were sewn and bound into covers.
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