August 11, 2011

Qurʼanic Verses

This Qurʼanic fragment includes verses from several surahs (chapters) in the Qurʼan. On the right side, the fragment contains the first 24 verses of the 56th chapter, al-Waqi'ah (The inevitable). The surah’s heading appears at the top of the right folio, in white ink on a gold ground and framed by a horizontal cartouche decorated with vine motifs on a blue or red background. Below the frame is a simple horizontal band of light blue floral vines and minuscule red dots contained in a gold-outlined panel. The heading states that al-Waqi'ah consists of 96 verses and belongs to the Meccan period. On the top of the left side of this fragment are the last verses (38–62) of the 53rd chapter, al-Najm (The star). On the fifth line appears a red marginal gloss providing an alternate pronunciation for one of the words in the text. At the very end of Surat al-Najm, at the bottom of the folio, is a beautifully executed marginal roundel containing the word sajdah (prostration) written in gold on a blue ground. It marks the place for prayer before reading the next surah. At the bottom of the left folio appears the heading of the next chapter, 54, Surat al-Qamar (The moon), followed by an initial bismillah (In the name of God). The heading is executed much like that of al-Waqi'ah on the right side of the fragment and specifies that it consists of 55 verses revealed in Mecca. The verso of the fragment includes the continuation of Surat al-Qamar with verses 1–20. In the left margin are corrections and comments executed in red ink. On the left side of this folio appear the last verses (55–78) of the 55th chapter of the Qurʼan, Surat al-Rahman (The most gracious). These immediately precede the beginning of the 56th chapter, al-Waqi'ah (The inevitable), on the right side of the fragment's recto. In the left margin appears the same gold and blue round juz' marker as found in the right margin of the same folio. The last verse (78) of the chapter includes the expression "Blessed be the name of your Lord" written in gold ink. It is not unusual to find the name of God (Allah) or his epithets and synonyms picked out in gold ink. The script of the text is executed in a black Persian naskh, while the headings are executed in a larger white thuluth on the fragment’s recto. Both cursive scripts were used in Qurʼans made in Iran during the 16th–17th centuries.

Qurʼan Carpet Page; al-Fatihah

This folio contains an opening carpet page of a Qurʼan. It is the second of five folios belonging to a dispersed Qurʼan manuscript in the collections of the Library of Congress. Together with another folio, this folio constitutes the double-page illuminated frontispiece of a beautiful, albeit damaged, 14th-century Mamluk Qurʼan. The folio contains the continuation of verses 76–80 of the 56th surah (chapter), al-Waqi'ah (The inevitable), contained in the top and bottom rectangular panels of the double-page illuminated frontispiece. The decorative patterns and palette of this carpet page are typical of 14th-century Mamluk Qurʼans made in Egypt. The verso of the folio contains the first chapter of the Qurʼan, al-Fatihah (The opening). In the top and bottom blue rectangular registers, decorated with interlacing gold vine motifs, appears the title of the surah in now-oxidized white ink. The heading specifies that al-Fatihah was revealed in Medina and has seven verses, (29) words, and 120 letters. The number of words, which would have appeared in the lower right corner of the folio, is now missing. The interest in counting the total number ayahs (verses), words, and letters in various chapters and throughout the Qurʼan not only provided an indexical apparatus for the Holy Book. It also may have served various practices concerned with letter mysticism or the esoteric sciences of letters. The script in the main text frame is naskh, a cursive style preferred in Qurʼans made in Cairo during the 14th–15th centuries.


Heinrich Neuhaus (1833–87) was a German-born map maker and lithographer who worked in Sweden for many years. His largest and best-known work is this panoramic map of Stockholm, which he created in the 1870s using an oblique image in isometric perspective. The buildings on the map are depicted with remarkable accuracy. Neuhaus is reported to have said that in order to produce the map, he walked through every neighborhood of the city and sketched the exterior of its buildings and other structures. The map captures the rapid growth of Stockholm that was characteristic of major European cities in the second half of the 19th century. Neuhaus made maps in a similarly three-dimensional style of the Stockholm districts of Norrmalm, Sodermalm, and Ostermalm.

Botanical Description of Chiranthodendron

Little is known of José Dionisio Larreátegui other than that he was active in Mexico circa 1795, the date he published his work on the Mexican hand plant for which he is remembered. The late 1700s was a time of intense scientific activity in Mexico, then part of the Spanish Empire. In 1787, King Carlos III authorized a major botanical expedition, the establishment of a botanical garden, and a scientific course of study at the university in Mexico City. Larreátegui, a medical student at the Real y Pontífica Universidad de México, completed the new botany course at the university in 1794. In 1795, he was asked to deliver an address to the course at the opening of the new academic year. He chose as his topic the Linnean system of naming and describing plants, with a description of the Mexican hand plant as an example. His talk was then published under the title Descripciones de Plantas. Larreátegui’s monograph marked the first time that the hand plant was described and given the name Chiranthodendron pentadactylon. The plant is actually a tree, known at the time from a single long-lived specimen in Toluca in the Valley of Mexico, which was revered by the local Indians and used in medicines for pain and inflammation. Larreátegui’s monograph, along with dried specimens of the leaves, flowers, and seedpods of the tree, found their way to France and into the hands of Daniel Lescallier, a French naval and colonial administrator. Lescallier recognized the importance of the plant and published this translation of Larreátegui’s monograph in 1805, giving the author’s name as Joseph-Denis Larréategui.

Instruments for the Restoration of Astronomy

Tycho Brahe (1546–1601) was a Danish astronomer who built the best observatory in Europe and set a new standard for accurate celestial observations in the era before the invention of the telescope. His noble birth enabled him to pursue his true interests in the humanities and the sciences, particularly astronomy. He became adept at designing scientific instruments and making observations during his early travels in Europe. Upon his return to Denmark he won favor with King Frederick II, who provided him with monetary support to continue his astronomical researches and gave him the small island of Hven in the Danish straits, where Tycho began construction of his observatory complex. For his observatory, he designed massive instruments with which he hoped to obtain the most accurate observations ever. King Frederick died in 1588, and his successors at the royal court were less supportive of Tycho. In 1597, Tycho left Hven for northern Germany, where he began work on a book intended to be a showcase of his instruments, highlighting their superiority and how they would provide the measurements which would lead to “restored astronomy.” In addition to text, the book featured plans and illustrations of Tycho’s instruments. Tycho completed the work in January 1598, and had 100 copies produced by the Hamburg printer Philip von Ohrs. Tycho dedicated the book to the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, in hopes of gaining his patronage. Rudolf enthusiastically took Tycho into his favor and in 1598 provided him with a castle near Prague to further his astronomical work. Tycho’s death in 1601 cut short by his work, and it was left to his assistants, including the great German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630), to continue his systematic observations of the planets and stars. Shown here is the 1602 edition of Tycho’s work, produced in Nuremberg by the printer Levinus Hulsius.

Theater of Instruments and Machines

A new type of book appeared in Europe in the late 16th century, representing a genre of literature known as the “theater of machines.” The first of the theaters was produced by Jacques Besson (circa 1540–73), a French Protestant, born in Grenoble, who worked primarily as a mathematics teacher until royal patronage came his way. In 1559, Besson published a book on extracting oils and waters from simple drugs. His second book, Le Cosmolabe, published in 1567, described an elaborate instrument that could be used for navigation, surveying, cartography, and astronomy. In 1569 King Charles IX appointed Besson “master of the King’s engines.” Before Besson, illustrations of machines had appeared, but they were mainly of current technology or provided limited descriptions of new inventions. Besson began work on a book of designs for a range of instruments and machines that he envisioned could be built. His book was published in 1571–72, with descriptions by Besson and 60 engravings made to Besson’s specifications by Jacques Androuet du Cerceau. The plates depicted measuring and drawing instruments, many later used to produce the original plans for the machines, as well as lathes, stone cutters, sawmills, horse carriages, barrels, dredges, pile drivers, grist mills, hauling machines, cranes, elevators, pumps, salvage machines, nautical propulsion machines, and many others. Following the crackdown on Protestants that began in France in 1572, Besson emigrated to England, where he died in 1573. A new edition of his work appeared in 1578, with more detailed descriptions by François Béroalde de Verville and four replacement engravings by René Boyvin. Shown here is the 1578 edition.