Arif Erbil intends to follow the traces of the Arabic MS 45 entitled “Islamic devotional book.” In fact, at first glance the manuscript appears to be an everyday prayer book containing verses and chapters from the Qur’an and some other related prayers, yet the calligraphic style and the ornamentations of the pages are certainly outstanding.The colophon appears to be an autograph of either the composer/writer(mu’allif) orthecopyist (mustansikh), Ismāʿīl al-Baghdādī (Arabic MS 45, 114a).
Even though there is little information about the author, a blog focusing on the life of Ottoman calligraphers collected enough information to identify the artist. In the blog post, he is described as being born in Baghdad, educated in Istanbul, and as a descendant of a Sufi master (Mawlawi shaikh Ibrahim Dedeefendi).This is important information for contextualizing the work and the author. It is worthwhile to study this manuscript, thanks to its author and its artistic value. On the one hand, the manuscript can be questioned under various aspects, including patronage, 18th century Ottoman calligraphy culture and the artist’s place among the elite. For this part, investigating questions about what the Ottoman archives told us about his life, his relationship with the state, and also about his heritage, which may have been recorded in special inheritance registers called “tereke” is necessary.
On the other hand, the life of the manuscript, after the author’s own possession, is also worth following through history. First of all, it is known that the manuscript is now in the Duke University’s Rubenstein Library as part of the Harry L. and Mary K. Dalton Collection. One can also notice the ownership note of Harry Dalton in the very first pages of the manuscript. Therefore, there is a history for this beautiful manuscript that most likely began in Istanbul in the 18th century and continues at Duke University in the 21st century. One source for this study will be The Life of Harry L. Dalton by John L. Sharpe III in order to have some background for the acquisition of the book. In this sense, two additional complementary sources will help to make the traces more solid. One of them is the other Arabic manuscript that is present in their collection, “North African commonplace book in Arabic” whose call number is Arabic MS 25 along with the other manuscripts that exist in their collection. The other source might be Dalton’s papers housed at UNC-Charlotte. Amongst the papers are a number of acquisition receipts which may provide further insight as to how and from whom Mr. Dalton acquired this manuscript.
Update: Arif has been working with Duke Arabic MS 045. In doing so, he has focused on four key areas: Ottoman calligraphy tradition, physical details of Arabic MS 045, Harry Dalton, and Arabic MS 045 in the 21st century. This item follows the Şeyh Hamdullah (d. 1520) tradition.This piece is also known as the “Islamic Devotional Book.” It contains an En’am-i Serif, 34 chapters from the Qur’an, ayahs, prayers, images of sacred items, and illuminations from Mecca and Madina. This item has 144 leaves and a colophon stating: “Ismāʻīl, al-maʻrūf bi-Baghdādī.” Arif is unsure about the composition and original ownership of this item, but it was most likely commissioned by a wealthy patron. Most likely, Duke acquired this item from Harry L. Dalton, a former student at Duke University. This book was exhibited in Perkins Library in 1977 and was later presented at the Rubenstein Library by J. Andrew Armacost.