fbpx Chrysler Logo
Search
Search
Moses Myers House

323 E. Freemason St.
Open Saturday and Sunday

Noon–5 p.m.

Jean Outland Chrysler Library

Reading Room
Currently closed

About the Myers House

The oldest Jewish home in America open to the public as a museum offers a glimpse of the life of an early 19th century merchant family.
More about the house

About the Library

With an extensive collection of more than 106,000 rare and unique volumes relating to the history of art, the Jean Outland Chrysler Art Library is one of the most significant art libraries in the South. More about the library

Located in Norfolk

One Memorial Place,
Norfolk, VA
Get Directions

While You're Here

Visit our Museum Shop
and the Wisteria Cafe.

Perry Glass Studio

A state-of-art facility on the Museum’s campus. See a free glassmaking demo Tuesdays–Sunday at noon. Like what you see? Take a class with us! More about the Studio

Moses Myers House

The home of the first permanent Jewish residents of Norfolk, this historic house offers a glimpse of the life of a wealthy early 19th-century merchant family.
More about the house

Jean Outland Chrysler Library

With an extensive collection of more than 106,000 rare and unique volumes relating to the history of art, the Jean Outland Chrysler Library is one of the most significant art libraries in the South. More about the Library

Wedding & Event Rentals

The perfect place for your big day or special event. Get the details

In-person Tours

Group tours are available for groups of 20 or fewer. More about tours

Jean Outland Chrysler Library

Visit one of the most significant art libraries in the South. More about the library

About the Chrysler

Our story spans well over 100 years. See where we began, how we grew, and where we're going. Explore our history

News and Announcements

See what's happening at the Museum, read Chrysler Magazine, and find our Media Center. Read now

Location

745 Duke Street
Norfolk, VA 23510
757-333-6299

Always Free Parking

Get Directions

Third Thursdays

Live art performances monthly.
See the archive

Studio Team

Meet the brilliant minds behind the Studio.
See the team

Visiting Artist Series

Bringing the world’s top glass art talent to Hampton Roads
Find out more

Give the Chrysler Experience

Share everything you love about the Chrysler Museum with a gift membership. Perfect for everyone on your list.

The Masterpiece Society

Learn about this innovative group of museum supporters.
Meet the Masterpiece Society

Planned Giving

Help ensure the long-term success of the Museum.
Learn about planned giving

Moses Myers House

323 E. Freemason St.
Open Saturday and Sunday

Noon–5 p.m.

Jean Outland Chrysler Library

Reading Room
Currently closed

About the Myers House

The oldest Jewish home in America open to the public as a museum offers a glimpse of the life of an early 19th century merchant family.
More about the house

About the Library

With an extensive collection of more than 106,000 rare and unique volumes relating to the history of art, the Jean Outland Chrysler Art Library is one of the most significant art libraries in the South. More about the library

Located in Norfolk

One Memorial Place,
Norfolk, VA
Get Directions

While You're Here

Visit our Museum Shop
and the Wisteria Cafe.

Perry Glass Studio

A state-of-art facility on the Museum’s campus. See a free glassmaking demo Tuesdays–Sunday at noon. Like what you see? Take a class with us! More about the Studio

Moses Myers House

The home of the first permanent Jewish residents of Norfolk, this historic house offers a glimpse of the life of a wealthy early 19th-century merchant family.
More about the house

Jean Outland Chrysler Library

With an extensive collection of more than 106,000 rare and unique volumes relating to the history of art, the Jean Outland Chrysler Library is one of the most significant art libraries in the South. More about the Library

Wedding & Event Rentals

The perfect place for your big day or special event. Get the details

In-person Tours

Group tours are available for groups of 20 or fewer. More about tours

Jean Outland Chrysler Library

Visit one of the most significant art libraries in the South. More about the library

About the Chrysler

Our story spans well over 100 years. See where we began, how we grew, and where we're going. Explore our history

News and Announcements

See what's happening at the Museum, read Chrysler Magazine, and find our Media Center. Read now

Location

745 Duke Street
Norfolk, VA 23510
757-333-6299

Always Free Parking

Get Directions

Third Thursdays

Live art performances monthly.
See the archive

Studio Team

Meet the brilliant minds behind the Studio.
See the team

Visiting Artist Series

Bringing the world’s top glass art talent to Hampton Roads
Find out more

Give the Chrysler Experience

Share everything you love about the Chrysler Museum with a gift membership. Perfect for everyone on your list.

The Masterpiece Society

Learn about this innovative group of museum supporters.
Meet the Masterpiece Society

Planned Giving

Help ensure the long-term success of the Museum.
Learn about planned giving

Close
Sign up for emails from the Chrysler Museum of Art

Join Our Email List

Sign Up
April 20, 2021

From the Library Archives: The Mystery of the Oldest Book

-Liz Weir, Dickson Librarian

The Jean Outland Chrysler Library has an extensive collection of over 300,000 volumes of books, periodicals, auction catalogs, archives, and rare books. We’ve always considered the oldest known book in the collection to be Andrea Palladio’s I Commentari di C. Givlio Cesare, an illustrated translation of Julius Caesar’s commentaries on the Gallic Wars made in 1575.

Julius Caesar, I Commentari di C. Givlio Cesare, Venice, 1575, Appresso P. de’Franceschi, Engraved Plates by Andrea Palladio, Gift of Captain Shirley Falcke, RARE NE892.P34 C33 1575

That was until I stumbled across a newspaper article in the archives while researching the Museum’s history. The article, published in 1978, highlighted a time when the Jean Outland Chrysler Library was temporarily housed in the old school administration building. This quote captured my attention: “Wrapped in tissue paper in one corner is the Arabic text of writings by Nued-din Abd-ur-rahman ibn Ahmed, dated 1482.”

“Art library wasting away.” The Daily Break, February 1, 1978. From the Jean Outland Chrysler Library archives

A book in our collection made before 1575? One older than our work by Andrea Palladio? I was intrigued and turned my attention to a mystery book not cataloged in our system. The protective covering has “Koran?” written on it. Could the mystery book be the one mentioned in the article? Could this be the oldest book in the library? I had so many questions.

Illuminated page from the Qur’an.

I examined the book closely. Aside from some normal wear and tear on the cover, a spine that needs repair, and some staining on a few pages, it’s in excellent condition. The calligraphy is elegant and crisp and the illumination on the front pages shines in the light. Because it has been in a cool and stable environment, the pages, which appear glossy, have been very well-preserved. The library’s climate control keeps the humidity and temperature low for safe storage and preservation.

I, sadly, do not speak or read Arabic and could not identify it on my own, so I reached out to Dr. Shadi Bayadsi, lecturer of world languages and culture at Old Dominion University, to help me with its identification. He teaches Arabic and helped me properly identify the book. It is, indeed, a Qur’an.

Page of the Qur’an with the date hand-written at the bottom.

On the back page, the date is written out as “تسع وثلاثين وستمائة الهلالية,” or “Thirty-nine six hundred.” The Islamic calendar, the Hijri, has a dating system that coincides with the Prophet Muhammad’s Hijrah, or emigration, from Mecca to Medina. “If you add 578 (the difference in years between the Islamic calendar and the Gregorian) then it will be 1217,” he explained. That means that this book predates the Palladio book by over 300 years!

This Qur’an was made during what is known as the Islamic Golden Age in the Third Caliphate. This period saw the spread of Islam further into North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, the introduction of paper-making, and the development of new styles of calligraphy and illumination for manuscripts. The calligraphic cursive (naskh) seen in this book is called muhaqqaq, meaning “clear” or “consummate.” It’s considered one of the most beautiful forms of calligraphy and difficult to master. It saw its peak during the thirteenth century.

Example of corrective text in the margins.

What makes this Qur’an unusual is the writing in the margins. On some pages, the outer border is either erased away or drawn around the calligraphy. Corrective text is not unheard of in Medieval Qur’ans, though they often come in the form of writing over erased text or writing within the text. Translations within the margins are not unheard of, either. In this case, the corrective writing was done with different colored inks and widths of nibs. More than likely, these corrections were added later and not by the same calligrapher. Other corrections appear to have been made within the text in the form of erasure and writing over it. That practice was a bit more common.

Detail of gilded calligraphy in the margin.

Detail of gilded calligraphy in the margin.

Being able to discover, research, and care for this Qur’an is such a rewarding and exciting experience. It’s expanded my own knowledge of Islam and Islamic calligraphy, medieval Middle Eastern history, and book making and preservation.

Are you working on a research project or curious about other unique publications in the Jean Outland Chrysler Library? Search the online catalog then schedule an appointment today to visit the library by e-mailing library@chrysler.org or calling 757-664-6205.

From the Collection