December 14, 2012

Bridging the Daugava River at the Ķegums Hydro Power Plant, October 1936

Eduards Kraucs (1898–1977) was a renowned Latvian photographer and cinematographer who, between 1936 and 1940, documented the construction of the Ķegums Hydro Power Plant on the Daugava River in central Latvia. This photograph, taken in October 1936, shows the construction of the first temporary wooden bridge across the river. The plant was a unique engineering structure for the Baltic countries and Northern Europe, involving a collaborative effort of Latvian and Swedish engineers. Technological solutions new to Europe were used in its construction. The plant had great importance in Latvia as a symbol of state and national identity during the first period of the history of the independent Latvian state (1918–1940). Its completion marked the beginning of a unified statewide power system and of the Latvenergo group. The plant triggered rapid economic growth, resulted in the electrification of Latvia’s regions, and improved the welfare of the Latvian population. Kraucs took images of the work once or twice a week during the period of construction. The resulting collection of 1,736 glass plate photonegatives is the only known example in Europe of such a comprehensive photographic record of a large-scale building project. The collection was inscribed on the Latvian National Memory of the World Register in 2009.

Holy Qurʼan

According to Islamic belief, the Holy Qurʼan was revealed by God to the Prophet Mohammad (570–632) by the Angel Gabriel over a period of 22 years. The Qurʼan speaks in powerful, moving language about the reality and attributes of God, the spiritual world, God's purposes with mankind, man's relationship and responsibility to God, the coming of the Day of Judgment, and the life hereafter. It also contains rules for living, stories of earlier prophets and their communities, and vital insights and understandings concerning the meaning of existence and human life. The devotion the book inspires among Muslims is reflected in the many sumptuously produced illuminated Qurʼan manuscripts, of which the present work, created in the Iranian city of Shiraz in the mid-19th century, is an example. The manuscript includes many multicolored images that display a broad range of styles of illumination and the use of many different production materials. The beautiful calligraphy is by Abdol-Vahhab Naghmeh. The lacquer painted cover is itself a masterpiece. This exquisite manuscript is kept in the manuscript collections of the National Library and Archives of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Wonders of Creation

Zakarīyā ibn Muhammad al-Qazwīnī (circa 1203–83), was a distinguished Iranian scholar who was conversant in poetry, history, geography, and natural history. He served as legal expert and judge in several localities in Iran and at Baghdad. After traveling throughout Mesopotamia and Syria, he wrote his famous Arabic-language cosmography, 'Aja'eb ol-makhluqat wa qara'eb ol-mowjudat (The wonders of creation, or literally, Marvels of things created and miraculous aspects of things existing). This treatise, frequently illustrated, was immensely popular and is preserved today in many copies. It has been translated into Persian, Turkish, and German. The book covers such subjects as astrology, cosmology, and the natural sciences. The book’s subject matter divides into two broad groupings: the sublime and transcendental, and the gross or material. From the point of view of the vastness of information contained in his work, al-Qazwīnī is often compared with the great Roman scholar Pliny the Elder (AD 23–79) and frequently has been called the “Pliny of Middle Ages.” The present manuscript, a Persian translation of the 'Aja'eb, contains curious drawings and paintings in the Persian style, both monochromatic and in watercolor. The copy is kept in the manuscript collections of the National Library and Archives of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Spiritual Couplets

The most significant contribution of Jalāl al-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (popularly known in Persian as Mawlānā, and in English as Rumi, 1207–73), the renowned poet and mystic of Iran, to Persian literature may be his poetry, and especially his famous Masnavi (The spiritual couplets). This work, which is said to be the most extensive verse exposition of mysticism in any language, discusses and offers solutions to many complicated problems in metaphysics, religion, ethics, mysticism, and other fields. Masnavi highlights the various hidden aspects of Sufism and their relationship to the worldly life. To accomplish his purposes, Rumi draws on a variety of subjects and derives numerous examples from everyday life. His main subject is the relationship between man and God on the one hand, and between man and man, on the other. Rumi apparently believed in some form of Pantheism and portrayed the various stages of man's evolution in his journey towards the Ultimate. Rumi’s cultural impact has been very profound throughout Middle East, in the Islamic world and, recently, in the Western world. The present book is a facsimile printing of a manuscript of Masnavi by the famous 19th-century calligrapher Towhid Vesal. It contains beautiful illuminations and elegant headpieces. The original manuscript is preserved in the manuscript collections of the National Library and Archives of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Treasure of Khvarazm’Shah

Ismā‘īl ibn Ḥasan Jurjānī (circa 1042–circa 1136, also seen as Jorjānī and Gurjānī), known popularly as Hakim Jurjānī, was among the most famous physicians of 12th-century Iran. In the period between the Islamic conquest and the time of Jurjānī, almost all scientific books by Iranians were written in Arabic, including such famous works as al-Qānūn fī al-tibb (The canon of medicine) by Ibn Sina (Avicenna). Jurjānī's medical encyclopedia, Zakhīrah-i Khvārazm’Shāhī (The treasure of Khvarazm’Shah) was the first major medical book in post-Islamic Iran written in Persian, and it soon became a primary resource for Iranian physicians, used for many centuries. It also was translated into Hebrew, Urdu, and Turkish. The voluminous work is in ten parts. In a lengthy preface, Jurjānī describes in detail the climate, geography, and the common diseases of Khvarasm (present-day Khorasan), the northern province where he lives. After presenting this background, he explains the necessity of writing a medical textbook in his native language. The arrangement of the ten parts of Zakhīrah is similar to Avicenna’s Canon. In current medical terminology, the ten parts discuss the following topics: (1) anatomy, physiology and knowing temperaments, humors, and elements; (2) general pathophysiology (including a chapter describing the kinds of pulses and a chapter on causes of death); (3) hygiene and nutrition (including separate chapters on diseases of childhood, of age, and especially diseases contracted while traveling); (4) diagnoses and prognoses; (5) fever and its classification; (6) treatments (the volume of the encyclopedia most sought after by physicians of the period); (7) infectious diseases; (8) skin diseases; (9) toxicology; and (10) pharmacology. The present manuscript, created in the 12th century, has remarkable illustrations and illuminations and is one of the oldest existing copies of Zakhīrah. It is preserved in the manuscript collections of the National Library and Archives of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Molla Sadra’s Miscellany

Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī (1571–1640), commonly known as Molla Sadra, was a Persian Islamic philosopher, theologian, and mystic who led the Iranian cultural renaissance in the 17th century. The foremost exemplar of the Illuminationist, or Eshraqi, school of philosopher-mystics, Molla Sadra is commonly regarded by Iranians as the greatest philosopher that Iran has produced and is arguably the single most important and influential philosopher in the Muslim world of the last four centuries. His school of philosophy is called Transcendent Theosophy. Molla Sadra's philosophy and ontology are considered to be as important to Islamic philosophy as the writing of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger became to 20th century Western philosophy. Molla Sadra's original philosophy blended and transformed different sources—Avicennism, Suhrawardī's Illuminationist philosophy, Ibn al-Arabi's Sufi metaphysics, and Shiite theology—in a more ambitious and resourceful way than previous Islamic philosophers had done. The present manuscript, in Molla Sadra’s own hand, is an assortment of miscellaneous literary and philosophical writings, including some of his own, that he collected over time. It includes a brief item by Mīr Dāmād, Molla Sadra’s renowned teacher, in Mīr Dāmād’s own hand. The work is preserved in the manuscript collections of the National Library and Archives of the Islamic Republic of Iran.