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: The basin of the two scribes; verso: text
A.H. 715/1315 A.D.
Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper
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One of the earliest and most fascinating illustrated manuscripts from the Arab world is the so-called Automata
by al-Jaziri. The text is devoted to the construction of fifty mechanical devices, including different types of clocks, fountains, and containers for liquids. While the compositions are primarily intended to illustrate the mechanisms of these ingenious instruments, their vibrant colors and fine surface details enhance the pictorial interest of these early scientific manuscripts. The first chapter of the Automata
discusses complicated hydraulic clocks and their various components. One such clock is adorned with a copper disc decorated with the signs of the zodiac. Each one encircles the sun and moon along its own orbit. At certain times of the day, the disc revolves and musicians play to announce the new hour.
The Basin of the Scribes belongs to the chapter on pitchers, basins, and other vessels containing or measuring liquids. The device is intended to specify the exact amount of blood taken from a patient. According to al-Jaziri, two scribes are placed on a platform supported by columns. The pens of the scribes move according to the amount of blood gathered in the basin below.