Jean-Joseph Marcel (1776-1854) was an Arabist, and an antiquities collector. He joined Bonapart's expedition to Egypt as head of the printing shop dispached to Egypt together with Napoleon’s military troops. After spending 3 years in Alexandria and Cairo (1798 to 1801), executing his duty of publishing newspapers for the French Army and leaflets for the Egyptians, he returned to Paris. There, Jean-Joseph Marcel became the head of the Republican printing house. Twelve years later, after Napoleon’s downfall, he was discharged from public service and started to publish his own works and research.
His collection of Islamic materials included 3000 manuscripts, a few hundreds of which can now be found in French, German and Swiss Libraries. The National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg owns a collection of fragments containing from the 8th-11th centuries, acquired in the Mosque of Amr ibn As, in Cairo. This collection is composed of about 2000 leaves forming 130 items, all written on parchment except for one, written on paper. This amazing collection of early Qur'ans is now accessible online, as a digital exhibition.
To acces images, the user can either click on any of the hyperlinked numbers embedded in the presentation text, or scroll down the main page and click on the "List of images" link. Entire pages or small details such as verse markers can be viewed. If scanning definition is very good, images are watermarked with the name of the National Library of Russia. Images open individually in a pop-up window, and can be copied or saved (in JPEG) using the right-click button of the mouse.
As explained on the website: "due to the importance of the J.J. Marcel's collection, the Max van Berchem Foundation (Switzerland) has given its support to the complex project involving conservation and preservation activities (microfilming, preservation of the most fragile leaves, etc.) as well as preparation of the electronic catalogue of the collection. V.V. Polosin (the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences) and Francois Déroche (the Sorbonne, Paris) worked on this project together with the employees of the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg. At present the publication of a printed version of the illustrated catalogue of the Marcel collection of early Qur'ans is being prepared."
The National Library of Russia website is accessible in both Russian and English. This digital exhibition website is only in English.