The world in 460 pictures. That’s the number of colour illustrations included in the illuminated manuscript of The Miracle of Creation that will be on display from 16 August to 27 October 2019 in the book art cabinet of the Museum für Islamische Kunst.
The sheets on display provide a colourful insight into the knowledge about the world that was gathered together by the scholar al-Qazwini between 1260 and 1280. He describes the celestial spheres along with their inhabitants, planets and constellations, the four elements, as well as animals, minerals and plants. The display is capped off by fabulous and bizarre creatures. By presenting to his readers the diversity and miraculous nature of divine creation, al-Qazwini sought to encourage them to contemplate the wonder of creation, and through this, to recognise the greatness of God.
Despite its systematic structure and philosophical ambitions, al-Qazwini’s encyclopaedia provides a pleasurable read with its array of dazzling images. Entertaining stories and colour illustrations ensure that studying the encyclopaedia has always been varied and compelling. So it’s no wonder that The Miracles of Creation was already a bestseller back in al-Qazwini’s day. The Arabic version of the work was translated into Persian after just a few decades, and Turkish editions also followed. The fact that this success story stretched all the way into the 19th century is demonstrated by the manuscript on display. It is thought to have been produced in northern India in the late 18th century.
The manuscript was donated to the museum, and recently underwent extensive restoration work in the museum’s workshops. This work was made possible by a generous donation from the Maltzahn family, in memory of Paul Freiherr von Maltzahn.
The exhibition showcases a representative cross-section of sheets from the manuscript, along with excerpts from the accompanying texts by al-Qazwini. As well as this, it provides an insight into the restoration process.