Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Folio From The Khawass Al-Ashjar (de Materia Medica): Rasiyun Plant
13th century CE
Materials and technique
Ink and opaque watercolour on paper
24 x 16.8 cm
One of the earliest scientific manuscripts to be translated from Greek to Arabic was Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica, as it is called in Latin. Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician, wrote his treatise on medicinal plants in the first century CE. The manuscript was initially translated into Syriac, and then into Arabic in Baghdad in the ninth century (Guesdon and Nouri 2001, p. 118). It became the foundation for Islamic pharmacology and was copied widely. The present folio is from a rare dispersed thirteenth-century Arabic copy of the text, in which are depicted various medicinal herbs and roots with an accuracy characteristic of Arab scientific texts produced during this period. The illustrations follow the Greek model closely. The paintings do not lack artistic sensibility and, for accuracy, each specimen is depicted in its entirety from tip to root against the plain paper ground. The recto side of this page depicts a large, red bramble plant with five thorned branches arranged symmetrically. A mass of green shoots, topped with red flowers, clusters at the base of the plant, which has a red root. The text identifies the plant as rasiyun, “the thorny plant which grows in the mountains.” The verso side of the page shows a single-stemmed plant with red spiky blossoms, and the text states that this medicinal plant is used in the treatment of skin disorders including pustules, itching and ulcers.
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