Koran verses from as early as the eighth century were embellished with elaborate gold illumination that was later extended to frontispieces and section headings. Artists developed techniques for transforming gold foil into a fluid pigment and then used brushes and reed pens to apply the gold. After drying, the gold was burnished to create surfaces that glitter. In addition to gold, illuminated Koran headings often include dense decoration using intense mineral pigments, particularly a deep blue made from crushed lapis lazuli. Illumination techniques were soon applied to other arts. Calligraphers penned text in gold, and, by the sixteenth century, painters used gold pigment and incorporated decorative designs within their paintings. Court artists from Iran, Turkey, and India often were masters of illumination.
This exhibition, on view in the Islamic Corridor, features examples of illuminated passages from the Koran as well as some of the tools used to apply and burnish gold. Gulhis Diptas, whose work is also included in this exhibition, is one of Turkey’s new generation of illuminators. This fall she visits the MFA to demonstrate her techniques, including how to make gold glitter.