The Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation’s design studio Editio Electrum presents the Mamluk & Il-Khanid Masterpieces Collection, a set of twelve double page prints based on selected openings from the finest medieval Qur’an manuscripts in Cairo’s Dar al-Kutub (National Library & Archives). The twelve pairs of Editio Electrum Tradigital plates are a limited edition of 225 and are available for sale as a special complete boxed set or as individual pairs.

It is said that tradition is copying. In traditional arts throughout the world the apprentice is trained by imitating the master, in many cases by attempting to copy the master’s works directly. We live in an age of mass production and mass communication, and we are more familiar than ever with copied images, but there is a further consideration to the traditional practice of copying. The traditional copy is never mindless or automated, it is essential that the copy derive from the conscious understanding of what is being copied. What qualifies the apprentice’s attempts as successful is the degree to which they show the comprehension and reapplication of the visual language of the masterpiece. Copies that may seem quite far from exact in places may in fact be deemed better than some that, to our eyes at least, appear more accurate, because they never the less ‘say’ the same thing as the original, rather as a poem recited by a different voice remains the same poem. Accordingly the twelve Editio Electrum prints are not photographic or automated copies that capture all the exigencies of the original manuscripts, but in being completely reconstructed by hand using digital technology they embody the idea of the designs, or the archetypal originals, in a new medium. In this sense they are better thought of as Platonic copies than as facsimile reproductions.

Refering to the many fine photographic reproductions in Dr. Martin Lings’ recent publication, Splendours of Qur’an Calligraphy & Illumination, HRH The Prince of Wales has expressed the hope that “... these plates may help to revive the sacred art of illumination so that it may accompany once again the art of Quran calligraphy ...”. It is in this spirit that Editio Electrum aims to revivify the noble art of the ornamental arts of the Islamic book, the summit of which is the art of illuminating the Holy Qur’an. The motto of Editio Electrum is ‘Ancient Vision - Modern Technique’ and in reconstructing the twelve masterpieces of Qur’anic illumination in the collection the Editio Electrum studio team has not only deciphered and understood the visual language of the medieval originals but has also developed workshop techniques with the very latest in digital design and print technology to articulate this language in a new and exciting medium. In particular the geometric elements of the designs have benefited from being freed from the limitations of paper and brush, the tools of the medieval craftsman, and reconstructed using CAD software have an accuracy not found in the medieval manuscripts.

The plates are printed by Yon Art Printing of Korea with high grade offset litho inks and 23.5 carat gold leaf on Arches 100% cotton rag Aquarelle paper. For the gold a fine layer of glue is printed using silkscreen printing, after which the gold leaf is laid on to the glue carefully by hand. Other colours are printed using offset lithographic printing using pure colours, not overprinted combinations of cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks as in normal colour printing. Some of the prints use as many as 14 individual colour separations. The experience and expertise of Yon Art Printing is central to the success of the project. The uncompromising production values and patient attention to detail given to the twelve plates make them unique in the world of printing.

It is our hope that these plates will inspire all who see them and will serve as a reminder that, as the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad states,

God is Beautiful and He loves Beauty.