Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Folio From The Khawass Al-Ashjar (de Materia Medica): Amadun Or Nardin Plant
13th century CE
Materials and technique
Ink and opaque watercolour on paper
24.8 x 17.2 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 features a spikenard plant (amadun or nardin), with five leafy branches, bare green roots, and red flowerbuds on the branches; the underground stems (rhizomes) of the spikenard plant were crushed and distilled to extract an aromatic oil used to treat a number of ailments. The verso page shows two plants. At the lower left is a plant with six, broad leaves on thin, curving stems from a common base out of which also grows a long stem with numerous small blossoms. The inscription on the left side of the page reads: "Here is a species of the darwanj (doronicum)". In the upper part of the page is a plant with an extensive, brown root system from which rises a stout stem with five branches, each with five leaves.
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