November 15, 2012

The Quintessence of Medicine

The author of this treatise, Isma‘īl ibn Muhammad al-Husayn al-Jurjānī (circa 1042–1136), also known as al-Sayyid Isma‘īl, was one of the most-famous physicians and prolific writers on medicine of his time. He was a student of the noted Persian physician Ibn Abī Sādiq Al-Nīšapūrī, who followed the teachings of Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) and was nicknamed Buqrāt al-tāni (The second Hippocrates). Thanks to his proficiency in medicine, al-Jurjānī was employed by the shahs of Khvarazm, Qutb al-Dīn Muhammad (1097–1127) and ‘Azīz b. Muhammad (1127–56). The former commissioned him to compose a monumental medical encyclopedia in Persian, which became Zakhīrah-i Khvārazm’Shāhī (The treasure of Khvarazm’Shah). The tenth part of that work, on medicines both simple and compound, sometimes circulated as a separate treatise: Kitāb-i Qarabadhin, or Dakīra (The formulary), used by the shahs on their travels. The Kitāb Zubdat al-Tibb (The quintessence of medicine) is another al-Jurjānī medical manual, of which not many copies survive. This one is a very elegant and richly rubricated 17th-century manuscript. The first part of Zubdat al-Tibb is a treatise on theoretical medicine arranged in the form of tables, aimed at schematizing the diagnoses that can be made from analyses of the pulse and urine. In what follows, al-Jurjānī deals with human anatomy and the treatment of fevers. This large manuscript—a true compendium of the medical knowledge available to a 12th-century physician—includes other treatises by Al-Jurjānī devoted to the explanation of simple and composite drugs and to discussions of tumors, sexual intercourse and sexually transmittable illnesses, and poisons.

The Wonders of Creation

Zakarīyā Ibn Muḥammad al-Qazwīnī (1203–83) spent most of his life in present-day Iran and Iraq and served as a judge in Wasit and Hilla, Iraq, during the reign of the last Abbasid caliph, Musta‘sim (1240–58). Al-Qazwīnī was also a geographer and natural historian, and known for his encyclopedic knowledge. This work, Kitāb ‘Ajā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt (The wonders of creation, or literally, Marvels of things created and miraculous aspects of things existing), probably was written in the sixth decade of the 13th century and is considered the most famous Islamic cosmography. The many manuscript copies show that for centuries it was one of the most popular books in the Islamic world. The present manuscript contains numerous schematic drawings of the planets and more than 400 miniatures and paintings. It was completed in 1280, three years before the author’s death, and is the oldest known textual witness to the original work. The first part deals with the celestial world; the second part depicts the earthly world. The cosmography is based on the doctrine of the unity of God and the unity of the universe as divine creation. The portrayal of the angels, who appear unusually agile and vivid, deserves particular attention. The extraordinary use of color in the manuscript turns the angels into bright translucent creatures.

The Wonders of Creation

This cosmography by Zakarīyā Ibn Muhammad al-Qazwīnī (circa 1203–83), Kitāb‘Ajā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt (The wonders of creation, or literally, Marvels of things created and miraculous aspects of things existing), enjoyed great popularity in the Arab world and was transmitted in numerous copies for centuries. This version at the Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany, is undated, but a strikingly similar manuscript in the National Library of France bears the date 1762. The script, style, and color spectrum of the depictions suggest that both manuscripts were produced in the same workshop, which may have been in Palestine. The illustrations appear naïve and resemble depictions in Christian Arabic manuscripts of the 18th century. Some of the miniatures reveal that occasionally the total composition of the painting was copied by tracing. Some figures seem to be cut off, although there are no frames in which the illustrations were supposed to be set. Compared to the edition of 1280, the manuscript bears witness to a remarkable decline in the artistic quality of Arab painting. Al-Qazwīnī was born in the Persian town of Qazwīn and worked as a legal expert and judge in Persia and Iraq. He is also known for his geographical dictionary, Athat al-bilad wa-akhbar al-‘ibad (Monument of places and history of God's bondsmen), which like his cosmography reflects learning in a wide range of disciplines.

The Book of Kings

This manuscript containing 215 illustrations is one of the largest pictorial cycles of the Shāhnāma, the Persian Book of Kings. Several painters, working at different times, were involved in its illumination; the miniatures thus are not uniform in style. Four distinct groups can be identified, with the two oldest groups dating from the 16th century. The miniatures of the first group show large-scale compositions with many figures, executed in minute detail using brilliant colors. The pictures of the second group are of lesser quality with regard to composition and figure drawing. The third group consists of two full-scale illustrations in the style of the court of Isfahan, and which were added in the early 17th century. The fourth group, however, is comprised of miniatures that do not seem related to the Iranian tradition and might be of Indian origin. Some of the best illustrations in this manuscript were possibly painted at the court of Sultan Ibrāhīm Mīrzā in Mashhad before 1565. The Shāhnāma was composed at the end of the tenth century by the poet Firdawsi (circa 940–1020). This beloved national epic is a heroic narrative of pre-Islamic Persia from mythic beginnings to the seventh-century Arab invasion. The legends form part of Iranian identity and have a status in world literature similar to those of Homer’s epics and the plays of William Shakespeare.

Record of Songs and Dances Performed by Professional Female Entertainers

Gyobanggayo is a collection of 19th-century songs and dances by the gisaeng (the Korean equivalent of geisha). Gyobang were the facilities that trained and controlled gisaeng, who belonged to the provincial government office during the Joseon Dynasty, and gayo meant songs. The book includes not only ariettas, lyrics, poems, and folksongs (all collected using Hangul, the Korean alphabet) but also colored manuscripts of dances with detailed movements for the gisaeng. It has a distinct historical value by providing insight into the cultural and social situations of the provinces at that time as seen through the eyes of the gisaeng.

November 16, 2012

Trader in the Registan. Samarkand

Seen here are money changers, probably near Registan Square, site of a bazaar in the center of Samarkand. The brick ledge on which the men are seated extends from a wall with traces of ceramic tile patterns typical of the three madrasahs (religious schools) that bounded the square. The heads of both men are covered with brilliant white turbans, and the well-maintained appearance of their attire is an indication of prosperity. On the left is a chained metal box for the money. Russian currency was the standard in Samarkand, but due to the city’s status as a trading center, there would have been ample demand for money changing. On the far right is part of a Russian poster advertising boxing and wrestling as well as circus acts. The image is by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863–1944), who used a special color photography process to create a visual record of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century. Some of Prokudin-Gorskii’s photographs date from about 1905, but the bulk of his work is from between 1909 and 1915, when, with the support of Tsar Nicholas II and the Ministry of Transportation, he undertook extended trips through many different parts of the empire. He was interested in recently acquired territories of the Russian Empire such as Turkestan (present-day Uzbekistan and neighboring states), which he visited on a number of occasions, including two trips in 1911.