Painting the Qur’an

This is a guest post by Scott LeDanse, a visual artist in Madison.

I made this painting in Konya and Uchisar in 1982 from a Qur’anic text I saw and loved in Konya. The verses in the painting are from Chapter 12, The Chapter of Joseph, verses 83-91.

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Click image to see the painting in full screen

In 1978 I lived in and traveled across Turkey, a magical land that at every turn melded the quotidian harshness of survival with celebration of the traveler and visions of ancient mysticism. As a visual artist I was on a mission, to seek out historic holy centers of Islamic significance. I made way to Konya, to see the Mevlana Museum, the epicenter of the Mevlevi Whirling Dervishes, a mystical Sufi Muslim group, which also contains the tomb and shrine of Mevlana, better known in the West as Rumi.

scottIt was there in the museum, on display under glass, that I was drawn to and fixated on a well preserved manuscript of the Qur’an. The Arabic calligraphy spoke to me on a visual level that negated the need to literally comprehend the verse. I was being transported, as if in an ocean of possibilities to a hypnotic place of universality. I pulled out my sketch book and copied the forms in front of me as faithfully as I could. Later, when I settled in a volcanic rock cut cave in Uchisar (Cappadocia) I transferred my drawing onto a 30″ x 40″ sheet of watercolor paper to create a painting that expressed what I experienced while being carried away on the waves of inspired devotion.

Historical Background of the Mevlana Museum

Sultan ‘Ala’ al-Din Kayqubad, the Seljuk sultan who had invited Mevlana to Konya, offered his rose garden as a fitting place to bury Baha’ ud-Din Walad or Bahaeddin Veled, the father of Mevlana, when he died in 1231. When Mevlana himself died on December 17, 1273, he was buried next to his father.

Mevlana’s successor Hüsamettin Çelebi built a mausoleum (Kubbe-i-Hadra) over the grave of his master. The Seljuk construction, under architect Behrettin Tebrizli, was finished in 1274. Gürcü Hatun, the wife of the Seljuk Emir Suleyman Pervane, and Emir Alameddin Kayser funded the construction.

The cylindrical drum of the of the dome originally rested on four pillars. The conical dome is covered with turquoise faience. Several sections were added until 1854. Selim I decorated the interior and performed the woodcarving of the catafalques.

A decree by Ataturk in September 1925 dissolved all Sufi brotherhoods in Turkey. On April 6, 1926, another decree ordered that the Mevlana mausoleum and dervish lodge be turned into a museum. The museum opened on March 2, 1927.

Special permission granted by the Turkish government in 1954 allowed the Mawlawi dervishes of Konya to perform their ritual dances for tourists for two weeks each year. Despite government opposition the order has continued to exist in Turkey as a religious body. The tomb of Rumi, although officially part of a museum, attracts a steady stream of pilgrims.

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