Marvels of Creatures and Strange Things Existing

Kitab Aja'ib al-makhluqat wa Gharaib al-Mawjudat

literally "The Wonders of Creation and the Curiosities of Existence", or

Marvels of Creatures and Strange Things Existing

Merchant from Isfahan Flying

Kitab Aja'ib al-makhluqat wa Gharaib al-Mawjudat, literally "The Wonders of Creation," compiled in the middle 1200s in what is now Iran or Iraq. The vibrantly illustrated work is considered one of the most important natural history texts of the medieval Islamic world.

The author, Abu Yahya Zakariya ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmud-al-Qazwini (ca. 1203-1283 CE), is known simply as al-Qazwini. One of the most noted natural historians, geographers and encyclopedists of the period, he was born in the city of Qazwin in Persia and received much of his education in Baghdad, the cultural center of the region. Al-Qazwini wrote most of his works in Arabic. This beautifully illustrated Persian translation was created in 1537 in the Mughal Empire, corresponding to what is now Pakistan and northern India.

"The Wonders of Creation" is divided into two sections, focusing respectively on celestial phenomena, including the planets, stars, and angels, and the terrestrial world, including geography, ethnography, zoology, and botany. Al-Qazwini was primarily a compiler of information from different authors, both ancient and medieval, and made few original observations of his own. However, his flowing and understandable writing style and thoroughness on different topics made his texts popular and often quoted. (source)

Head of the Angels of the Sixth Sky and the Head of the Angels of the Seventh Sky


The Constellations of the Dog and the Keel

The Constellations of the Bull, the Twins and the Crab

The Constellations of Sagittarius and Capricorn

The Constellations of Andromeda and Perseus


The archangel Gabriel

A map of the inhabited world

The artists who illustrated Arabic scientific works continued the Greek tradition of visually representing plants and animals. They based their drawings on traditional Greek representations such as those of the Vienna Dioscorides, that is, a Greek copy of Dioscorides’ De materia medica, ca. 513, currently preserved in Vienna, Austria. Often the illustrators improved on the original drawings by introducing new figurative elements. (source)

Two zodiacal constellations, Capricorn above and Aquarius below

Three constellations: above, the zodiacal constellation of Pisces, in the middle, the southern constellation of Cetus shown here as a harpy wearing a crown, and, below, the constellation of Orion depicted as a man carrying a sword in is left hand and a shepherd's staff in his right.

Six animal-headed demons or jinns

A simurgh - a monstrous mythical bird with the power of reasoning and speech. The
“Simurg” or “Angha,” is a sacred bird found in Persian, Greek, and Chinese fables,
and known in the West as the Phoenix.

Here you can browse a digital copy of the book

Image sources:
Islamic Medical Manuscripts at the National Library of Medicine
Wikimedia Commons
British Museum
British Library
Bridgeman Art Library

more info
Odyssey of Knowledge
  Absolute Astronomy


  1. and an extraordinary posting, as well. thanks!

  2. I like the instances when the creatures would be drawn beyond the red and black frame. It helps them jump out of the page. Sure, there's instances when the artist tried to cage them by (kinda awkwardly) extending the frame. But I like to think they ended up realising they couldn't control their creations and so they just let them do their thing!

    1. Fabulous as they are these creatures indeed can't be controled ;) I was intrigued by the same thought - and even more, in a wider (modern) sense, that knowledge itself can never be recorded in its entirety. The composition of pictures, texts and at the same time separating and connecting borders are like an outline, leaving room for the yet unknown.

  3. Wonderfullll!! thank-you! your pages really does quicken the heart ^*^


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