Brief Identification: This artifact is a Qur’an stand made of walnut wood from Konya, Turkey. The Qur’an stand is dated to the mid-13th century AD. During this time period, modern-day Turkey was Anatolia, and it was a part of the Ottoman Empire, more specifically the Seljuk dynasty [Mehrdad 2011, 1]. The folding lecterns of the stand served throughout the Islamic world as supports for large Qur’an books, used during recitations. They were among the most valuable furnishings of every mosque. This artifact is now held at the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany [Hagedorn 2015].
Technical Evaluation: This Qur’an stand is made of Walnut wood, and the technique used to create this artifact was carving. In the method of carving, a pointed chisel works out the decoration in raised form by carving the surface of the wood. Anatolia was always self-sufficient when it came to wood and even exported this raw material to Syria and Egypt who were less well-endowed in this respect [Yucel 1985]. The decoration on this stand, which is made from a single piece of wood, consists of a combination of calligraphy and abstract floral motifs. Carving of stone and wood were common in this time period in the area of Anatolia. The object was obtained as an anonymous gift in 1907 [Hagedorn 2015].
Local Historical Context: The Ottoman state was born as a small principality in western Anatolia during the last two decades of the 13th century. The family of Osman, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, arrived as nomadic tribesman from Central Asia. Turcoman tribes had been settling in Anatolia since 1071, when the Seljuk Turks defeated the Greek Byzantine Empire at the battle of Manzikert. The Turcoman chiefs, who settled in the region, swore their allegiance and paid annual tribute to the Rum Seljuks, who ruled from their capital, the town of Konya in central Anatolia [Mehrdad 2011, 1]. Turkish nomads that moved into Anatolia gradually became more sedentary, drawn to the peasant way of life by the agricultural possibilities of the country and the policy of the sultans consistently encouraged this trend [de Planhol 1959, 525]. The Anatolian Seljuk caravanserai is one of the most significant types of building in Anatolian Seljuk architectural heritage, appearing in Anatolian lands from the 12th century onward. These building were donated by the ruling class in order to increase security on the commercial routes passing through Seljuk lands. This was a successful policy with a positive impact on Seljuk economy until the arrival of the Mongols. A caravanserai is a building to house a caravan, group of people, animals, and carts traveling together. It also had wells or cisterns as water sources, high fortified walls, and a single protected entrance. These buildings played an important role in the development of trade for the Seljuk economy. Expenses for construction and maintenance of the caravanserais were borne by the sultan, and paid for by the taxes levied on the rich trade in goods [Osmond 2007, 50]. Mosques were also important religious buildings during this time. Qur’an stands were the most valuable of furnishing found in mosques. It had the most important role of holding the Qur’an during prayers and recitations [Hagedorn 2015].
World-Historical Significance: In the thirteenth century, the main political frontier between the Muslim and Christian worlds in the eastern Mediterranean lay across western Anatolia. To the east lay the Seljuk sultanate of Rūm, with its capital in Konya, while on the west the Byzantine successor state of Nicaea (1204–1261) ruled by the Laskarid dynasty and, after the reconquest of Constantinople from the Latins in 1261, the restored Byzantine Empire [Yaldiz 2013, 27]. The founder of the Ottoman state, Osman, began his career as a gazi, or warrior for Islam, who waged holy war on the Byzantine state from his small principality in western Anatolia [Mehrdad 2011, 2]. The caravanserais, traditionally thought to have been used as rest places for caravans, suggest cross-border trade, linking the western peripheries of the Seljuk state and the Nicaean Empire to the major economic centers in central Anatolia, Konya and Kayseri, and to Seljuk emporia on the Mediterranean [Peacock 2014]. In Seljuk crafts, the motivations and the limitations of the design are shaped by the predominant philosophies of that society in c. 12–13th century A.D. Anatolia. Geometric ornamentation was applied on portal facades or on interiors of public edifices, commonly in infinity or star motifs. In these motifs, large areas of stone, brick, or wood are covered with repetitive patterns extending to the edges [Ozkar 2006]. The artifact Qur’an stand from Konya has the Arabic inscription, “the power lies in God”, written in knotted kufic script within a square section in the upper half of the lectern. The ‘Throne verse’ of the Qur’an is found framed and written in thuluth script on the back [Hagedorn 2015]. The Turkish wood works have influenced architecture, presenting fine examples in old Turkish houses as well as several wooden mosques. Especially the ceilings of rooms, the shelved niches and cupboard doors have been fastidiously worked. The art of woodworking, which is observed both in architecture and on decorative objects, produced some of its most beautiful examples in the Ottoman period [Yucel 1985].
Suggested Bibliography: Peacock, A.C.S. Al-Masaq: Islam & the Medieval Mediterranean. 2014, Vol. 26 Issue 3, 267-287.
Ozkar, Mine and Nyssim Lefford. Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology. 2006, Vol. 57 Issue 11, 1551-1560. Mehrdad, Kia. Daily Life In The Ottoman Empire. ABC-CLIO, 2011. 1-2.
de Planhol, Xavier. International Social Science Journal. 1959, Vol. 11 Issue 4, 525.
Osmond, Jonathan. Power and Culture: Identity, Ideology, Representation. Edizioni Plus, 2007. 50-51.
Yaldiz, Esra, Dicle Aydin, and Suheyla Buyuksahin Siramkaya. In 2nd World Conference on Psychology and Sociology. PSYSOC (2013): 27-29.
Yucel, Erdem. “Antika; The Turkish Journal of Collectible Art.” (1985). Issue 6. http://www.turkishculture.org/traditional-arts/turkish-culture-portal/wood-carving/wood-carving-589.htm?type=1.
Hagedorn, Annette. "Qur’an stand" in Discover Islamic Art. Place: Museum With No Frontiers, 2015. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;de;Mus01;22;en.