John G. White’s interest in chess and its origins grew into an interest in all the cultures that spurred the development of chess. Particularly important to this expansion was the Far Eastern cultures, mainly Indian and Chinese, and the Near Eastern cultures, primarily Arabic and Persian. From his interests in these civilizations, John G. White began to collect manuscripts on these religious, social, and educational customs. That interest spurred the addition of these materials to his collection, and later to purchases made for the Orientalia collection of the John G. White department of the Cleveland Public Library.
The collection of Arabic and Persian materials includes treatises on chess, religion, mathematics, and social discourse. Some of the materials are beautifully bound with illuminations while others contain information on appropriate means of prayer and other rituals. Generally, there are few depictions of humans in these manuscripts as those images are periodically considered idolatry, especially when in religious texts. Human images can be found in secular texts. The manuscripts in this collection do not have human depictions.
Of particular interest in the collection are the manuscripts on chess, which include illustrations on game play. There are individual commentaries along with the writing regarding the play. Given the age of the manuscripts and the quality of the paper, the pencil writings have not harmed the materials. Similarly, the preservation work undertaken on most of these materials has kept them safe and usable for patrons and researchers.
Another interesting piece in the collection, which is too deteriorated to be scanned, is a treatise on “sines and circles” or Islamic mathematics. This piece has descriptions of geometric and trigonometric theories which helped continue the ancient knowledge that eventually helped the reemergence of European culture. The European Renaissance would not have been possible without texts like this. Part of the appeal of this manuscript is how worn it is and yet still readable. Encapsulated in Mylar and protected from further damage, the patron can see just how age affects manuscripts.
The manuscripts are mostly in the naskh
script but some are written in the cursive maghribi
script. The Maghrib
is generally defined as the Islamic world in North Africa. The maghribi
script indicated that style of writing and education there. The differences can be seen in the actual writing of the letters, particularly alif, lam,
With this difference in writing, it is safe to assume that there is a difference in where the materials were created and thus some of their provenance. Naskh
which is the more common script in this manuscript collection is now seen as the typical Qur'anic script. It is evenly written in a broader pen and looks more like a calligraphic script. It also had the benefit of being quick to write, which made it a preferred script of scribes.
The images here show some of the beauty and interesting aspects of the collection. Many of the pieces have undergone preservation and are housed in locked storage, so please be considerate of the time it takes to retrieve pieces when coming to the library.
N. van den Boogert, “Some Notes on Maghribi script”