Folio from an Automata by al-Jazari (d. 1206); recto: the Basin; verso: text
A.H. Ramadan 715/ A.D. 1315
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Enlarge this image | Purchase this image
Commonly referred to as the Automata
al-Jazari's scientific text is among the most fascinating illustrated works from the Arab world. It is devoted to the
construction of fifty mechanical devices, ranging from fountains, clocks, and automated palace gates to pitchers, locks, and bolts.
One chapter discusses hand-washing devices, such as this large ewer held by a kneeling female attendant in a domed pavilion. Al-Jazari maintains that once the bird whistles, water pours into a basin below. A duck then drinks the used water and releases it through its tail into a container hidden under the platform.