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Baltimore Koran Exhibit Displays Many Holy Books

  • Tabinda Naeem

An art exhibit at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, in the eastern state of Maryland, features 22 editions of Islam's holiest book: the Koran. What makes these religious manuscripts art is the beautiful calligraphy used to write the tomes. For producer Tabinda Naeem, Jim Bertel has more on the exhibit.

Baltimore is the largest city in Maryland and a popular tourist destination where visitors can enjoy the scenic harbor and other attractions. One popular stop is the Walters Art Museum.

Martina Bagnoli is an Associate Curator. "The Walters Art Museum is largely based on the collection of William and Harry Walters -- father and son -- who collected a great number of objects and paintings throughout their lifetime. At the time of Harry's death in 1931, he left his entire collection to the city of Baltimore. And this collection comprised about 28,000 objects. Among this collection were a large number of manuscripts and printed books. And it can be said Harry started collecting manuscripts by collecting Islamic manuscripts. It was a time in the history of collecting in this country where collectors became more familiar and more enamored of Islamic art."

Among the Islamic manuscripts are 28 Korans, the most in any American museum. Twenty two of these books are featured in the museum's exhibit: "Speaking the Word of God: Illuminated Korans from the Walters Art Museum."

Bagnoli describes the work. "They are all handwritten. They are all calligraphy and calligraphy is a very important art form in Islam. In fact, it is considered the highest art form and especially writing a beautiful collection of the Koran is one of the most important art forms. The story of this exhibition [is] to put in perspective the development of calligraphy in [the] Koran from the beginning, from the ninth century all the way to the 19th century."

The Korans were written and decorated with traditional Islamic colored paints, ink and gold.

To preserve the manuscripts, Bagnoli says they are stored in a carefully monitored environment. "They are kept in a room upstairs that is climate controlled. They are kept in special boxes so you make sure light doesn't get into it and, of course, they are kept closed. And humidity is maintained at certain levels that are suited for things that are written on, some are on parchment and you have to be really careful with the humidity level."

Visitors, like Randy Sidner, are finding the exhibit very educational. "I was very pleased and [it was] interesting the way it was displayed in the manuscript area. I am having a very enjoyable time here," he said.

The Walters Art Museum exhibit runs through the end of April.

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