Artisans and Mathematicians in Medieval Islam

By Saliba, George | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, October-December 1999 | Go to article overview

Artisans and Mathematicians in Medieval Islam


Saliba, George, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


AN UNWIELDY BOOK LIKE THIS is often not intended to be read. To start with, its dimensions make it cumbersome: it is 26.75 inches long when opened flat, 11 inches high, and weighs close to ten pounds. You can not carry it easily in your hands for long, nor could you place it on your lap for more than a few minutes, and the script is far too small to read from a distance when opened on a stand or a table. But with its 61 color- and 277 black-and-white illustrations, it is certainly a beautiful book to exhibit. Its object is the reproduction of a scroll now kept at the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul (MS H. 1956) containing what look like architectural designs. Necipoglu begins with an examination of the history of architectural drawings in Islamic culture by attempting to trace the history of scrolls, and then determining the date and provenance of the specific Topkapi scroll, and concludes that the scroll itself is a "mirror of late Timurid-Turkmen architectural practice." In part two, she takes to task the orientalist tradition regarding the Arabesque and the modern literature on that subject. Part three discusses the "Geometric Mode," as exhibited in geometric patterning, in terms of geography, chronology, and "semantics." Part four deals with geometry and the contribution of the mathematical sciences, and strives to discuss seriously the manuals of practical geometry that were written, or known to have been written, during the long period of Islamic scientific production. Part five recaptures the theme of geometry and aesthetic theory. That is followed by a full-color reproduction of the entire scroll, almost always accommodating one pattern to a page for all of its one hundred and fourteen patterns.

In the form of an appendix, there is a short essay by Mohammad al-Asad that deals with the geometric analysis of the phenomenon of muqarnas, the stalactite-like decorative architectural elements that are often characterized as the distinctive creation of Islamic architecture. In this essay al-Asad tries to teach the reader how to transform, with the help of computer-assisted design software, one of the plane designs of a muqarnas, as represented in the scroll, into a three-dimensional architectural unit. But he quickly admits that, with the many "adjustments," "symmetry (which) is partially broken" and lack of "exacting standards of precision" inherent in medieval manuals, his rendering is only one possible interpretation of the design and many other renderings could be conjured up, as well. Towards the end of the essay he confesses: "Although the conversion of these plans into three-dimensional objects may seem to the modern eye to be a highly interpretative process, it was standardized for medieval artisans." Only we do not know how, for "the procedure was a carefully guarded secret known only to members of the guild, who often belonged to the Sufi orders, or tariqas...." In other words, despite not documenting the existence of such guilds and their secrets, the author confesses that we do not know how these plans, if they did indeed exist in the first place, were materialized architecturally by working artisans on a given site.

But even with the help of a relatively elaborate description of how those artisans could have calculated areas of various types of muqarnas, as preserved in the work of the fifteenth-century mathematician and astronomer Kashi (d. 1429), one can still not tell for sure the exact measurements involved. Al-Asad is correct in concluding (p. 354), with Kashi that, in the final analysis, such measurements depend on "the aesthetic judgment of the builder, the profile of the arch or vault surrounding the muqarnas ...," and other such extraneous factors.

Exploring the relationship between the predominant geometric features of Islamic art and the theoretical works on mathematics that were produced during the heyday of Islamic civilization can shed light on the relationship between the artisan and the scientist in that culture--and that is surely desirable. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Artisans and Mathematicians in Medieval Islam
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.