Paganini Quran

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Paganini Quran or the 'First Printed Quran' is the only surviving copy of Quran printed on a movable type printer by Italian printer Paganino Paganini. The first complete Arabic Quran said to have been printed by movable type appeared in Venice in 1537-8. It was thought to have been completely lost until a copy showed up in the 1980s, displaying a very faulty text. It is believed to be one of the most notable historical Qurans.

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Between 1537 and 1538 Paganini and his son published what was probably the first printed edition of the Quran in Arabic. This work was likely intended for export to the Ottoman Empire, with which Venice had extensive trade ties. In the end, the venture was unsuccessful; the entire print run is reported by various contemporaries to have been lost, though the explanations for the disappearance vary widely. However, one copy of this printed Quran was found in 1987 in a monastery in Isola di San Michele (Venice).

circa 1537 CE

Perhaps the most important—and most elusive—printed book in Arabic is the edition of the Koran produced by the Venetian printer Paganino de’ Paganini in 1537-38 CE. All copies were thought to have perished in a fire until one remaining example was discovered in the 1980s in the library of the Frati Minori di San Michele ad Isola in Venice. The edition was probably intended as a commercial venture, but its odd typeface was quite unacceptable by Muslim calligraphic norms, and the numerous errors in the Koranic text were even more objectionable to Muslim sensibilities. As a commercial—or even an evangelical—venture, it was not a success.

circa 1537 CE

It was possibly the most daring and pioneering enterprise in sixteenth-century Venetian printing, this edition was mentioned by a handful of contemporary witnesses, and was reported as wholly destroyed as early as 1620 CE. The reasons suggested for its destruction ranged from its suppression by the Pope ("Pontifex Romanus exemplaria ad unum omnia impressa suppressit") to the ridiculous (divine intervention would prevent its printing), but without any copies to study, and without any reference in a bibliography or library catalogue, the mysterious edition was regarded as a ghost.


circa 1537 CE

In 1987 professor Angela Nuovo found a single copy in the library of the Franciscan Friars of Isola di San Michele, in Venice. The copy contains a note of ownership of Teseo Ambrogio degli Albonesi, who died soon after 1540 CE, and the stamp of Arcangelo Mancasula, Vicar of the Holy Office (Holy Inquisition) of Cremona, applied a few years later. Albonesi, an orientalist from Pavia, is the only person known to have handled the first printed edition of the Qu'ran in Arabic, and he referred to it in his Introductio in Chaldaicam linguam, Syriacam atque Armenicam (Pavia, 1539 CE).

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