Andalusi Binding: A Model of Islamic Binding from the Iberian Peninsula, 14th–16th Century

In: Journal of Islamic Manuscripts

Since the beginning of the 8th century when the Arabs first settled in the Iberian Peninsula, up until the end of 15th century, Christians, Jews and Muslims exchanged information and cultural influences within the domains of al-Andalus. During this time, there was a dramatic increase in books produced with unique features. When the Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon persecuted the Arabs, the majority of these books were burned or damaged, with a few exceptions that were hidden or relocated for safekeeping.

As part of the research project, “New analytical technologies for the understanding of materials and production techniques in Arabic manuscripts of al-Andalus” (CTQ2005–07717), researchers from different fields studied the methods and materials utilised in the production of books found in different Spanish collections. We found that among the examples produced in al-Andalus that characterize the traditional materials and methods associated with Islamic bindings, certain examples follow a distinct and consistent structure, albeit with certain variations in covering materials, end band sewing, and text block dimensions. This distinct structural element consists of one contiguous piece of fabric that lines the internal side of the covers and creates a natural hollow spine. Contrary to the generally-held view that the covers were made independently from the text block, our research found that in some manuscripts, the covers were made together with their text blocks. This variety of techniques for Islamic bindings refutes the idea that covers were made independently from text blocks. This discovery has subsequently been described in other works by Kristine Rose1 in respect of Turkish bindings and by Karin Scheper2 in broader areas of the Islamic world and relating to different periods. Interestingly, this structure has certain features reminiscent of later Coptic covers. Since this hybrid is clearly the result of a cross-cultural exchange within the region at the time, we have named it the Andalusi binding.

We have identified a small number of codices from the 14th–16th centuries that have these characteristics. They originate from different geographic locations within the historical domains of al-Andalus. There seems to have been a specific type of binding associated with al-Andalus during the later centuries of the Arabic occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. We expect that other bindings with similar features will be discovered that will confirm this hypothesis.

  • 2

    Karin Scheper“Three Very Specific Binding Features, shedding New Light on Islamic Manuscript Structures” in Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 42013 pp. 82–109.

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  • 4

    Espejo Arias and Arias Torres“Addenda” pp. 39–78.; Teresa Espejo Arias and David Torres Ibañez (eds.): El Comentario al Libro de las Frases o Sharh al Yumal de Ibn al-Fajjar al-Bayri: Reproducción fotográfica digital estudio codicológico e informe de restauración del Ms. XVI del Sacromonte de Granada Granada (Junta de Andalucía Consejería de Cultura) 2010.

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  • 13

    Karin ScheperThe Technique of Islamic Bookbinding pp. 154–155.

  • 14

    Adam Gacek“Arab Bookmaking and Technology” p. 110 and Karin Scheper The Technique of Islamic Bookbinding p. 157.

  • 20

    AbbādīLas artes del libro en al-Andalus p. 109.

  • 21

    Teresa Espejo Arias et al.“A Study about Colour in the Collection of Arabic Manuscripts in the Sacromonte Abbey, Granada, Spain. A New Methodology for Chemical Analysis” in Restaurator29 no. 2 2008 pp. 76–106.

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  • 22

    Teresa Espejo et al.“Microscopic and Spectroscopic Techniques for the Study of Paper Supports and Textile used in the Binding of Hispano-Arabic Manuscripts from Al-Andalus: A Transition Model in the 15th century” in Journal of Cultural Heritage 11 No. 1 2010 pp. 50–58.

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