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In the Islamic world, book art is an art form of the highest stature. In Islam, great importance was and is attached to 'the word', as the bearer of revelation in the Koran. Leading on from this, figurative representation in art was traditionally avoided, and as a result, the written word and ornament attained an elevated status in Islamic art. Not only was the text itself enhanced through the art of calligraphy and manuscript illumination with ornamental designs and miniatures, even the bookbinding itself and its designs became important parts of book art.
Like its European counterpart, an Islamic bookbinding consists of two book covers, connected by the spine. However, unlike a European manuscript, a fore-edge flap was attached to the lower cover. It folded over the bottom of the pages and was tucked under the top cover. In Arabic, this flap is referred to as the 'tongue'. The design on the outside of the tongue is usually the same as or very similar to the pattern on the cover.
The large cover of a Mamluk leather bookbinding featuring stunning geometric and calligraphic designs is on display in the museum's permanent collection display. Visitors can now see for themselves the astonishing diversity in bookbinding designs in today's temporary exhibition which features a wide selection of exquisite bookbindings. The exhibition reveals how bindings from a particular region or period display similarities in style and contain visual references to other fields of Islamic art. And from the museum's rich collection of Indian album leaves of the Mughal period, several sheets have been selected in which books are depicted, serving to illustrate the historical importance of book art overall.