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Folio from Kitab fi ma`arifat al-hiyal al-handisaya (The book of knowledge of ingenious mechanical devices) Automata by al-Jazari (d.1206); recto: A hand-washing device in the form of a woman holding a pitcher; verso: text
A.H. 715/1315 A.D.



Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
H: 31.1 W: 21.6 cm
Syria

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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.