“Kufic Korans,” on display in the Islamic Corridor, features a broad range of visual cultures, from Egypt to Iran, united by an appreciation for beautiful Arabic text. Calligraphy serves many purposes in Islamic art, from conveying meaning to acting as decoration, and its importance began in the early days of Islam, when Muslims believe that God first revealed the Koran to Muhammad. The Koran is the holy text and foundation of Islam, and skilled calligraphers throughout centuries have strived to make the text itself beautiful.

All the objects in this exhibition feature an angular style of Arabic calligraphy dubbed Kufic, considered to have originated from Kufa, a city in modern Iraq. Today the term “Kufic” is used by calligraphers and scholars alike to describe a wide range of angular Arabic script. Early Kufic Koran manuscripts, enhanced by gold and silver illumination, were commissioned by powerful Muslim rulers and large mosques. This angular and horizontal style also lent itself well to architectural inscriptions on monuments. Later, the angular style of script would be revived by calligraphers and artisans looking back to the austerity of the past and exploring Kufic’s potential to become more ornamental and abstract. Even in the 21st century, international corporations and local businesses in the Islamic world often utilize Kufic for their designs.