8.09.2011

Illustration of Elephants, Persian, 1295.

This image seems to be generating a lot of interest on my other blog, weirdolovesyou, which got me excited about it all over again. 


From the Manafi’ al-Hayawan (Usefulness of Animals), by Ibn Bakhtishu', 1295.
 The Morgan Library and Museum, NY.

I found this special painting while researching something completely different (medieval Hispanic liturgy).  The colors and patterning are just spectacular. I love the gold disc jewelry and the sort of cozy feeling created by the curvilinear forms that fit into one another. The foliage and birds are pretty fantastic as well. This is an illumination from a bestiary, a medieval compendium of beasts that describes the functional, symbolic, often religious meaning of animals and plants.

In the 11th century a Persian known as Ibn Bakhtishu was a physician to the Abbassid Caliph in Baghdad. Bakhtishu compiled information about various animals, mainly featuring any healing qualities that they might possess. Two centuries after he wrote it, the work was translated from Arabic into Persian and illustrated with 94 charming miniatures (Great Ages of Man: Early Islam1968, by Desmond Stewart).

According to Stewart's translation of Ibn Bakhtishu, "An elephant lives three or four hundred years; the animals with the longer tusks have a longer life. The elephant is afraid of a young pig and a horned ram but he is annoyed most of all by the gnat and the mouse. One dram of his ivory is good for leprosy; his fat relieves headaches when it is burned and the patient sits on the fumes."


The incredibly detailed look at The Morgan Library & Museum gives me goosebumps.

Shroud of St. Josse, 961, Musée du Louvre

I'm still attracted to medieval images of elephants ever since the Shroud of St. Josse project from my first semester at Tufts.

Oof, the roughest semester, but so long ago now!

There are still many mysteries surrounding this Persian shroud from the tenth century, and the only two articles written on it, as of 2010, are old, in French, and mostly technical. It is a silk textile, embroidered with Kufic script, Bactrian camels, and caparisoned elephants. The textile itself may have been the very same decorative cover that the embroidered elephants are wearing. We don't know for sure what the function of this textile was since there are only two small scraps left. It was brought to France after the Crusades and used to wrap the relics of St. Josse in his monastery. Since the textile was made in proximity to the Holy Land and considered a souvenir from the Holy War, (reclaiming Jerusalem from Muslims) it empowered the relics and church in France.

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