Elephant Water Clock Among 25,000 Pages of Medieval Arabic Scientific Manuscripts (Hyperallergic)

by Allison Meier on November 11, 2014 original article here.

from Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt, attributed to Archimedes (courtesy British Library, Oriental Manuscripts)

Illustration from Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt, 16th century, attributed to Archimedes, one of the 25,000 pages of Arabic scientific texts now freely available online (courtesy British Library, Oriental Manuscripts)

A new online portal created by the British Library and Qatar Foundation features 25,000 pages of medieval Arabic manuscripts centered on the history of science. The recently launched Qatar Digital Library includes British Library materials not previously digitized, along with thousands of pages related to culture of the Gulf region. Among the science texts are some that reveal the incredible history of water clocks, one of the earliest timekeeping technology.

The elephant water clock designed by al-Jazari, 14th-century illustration likely from Syria (via Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The form of the water clock (binkām) started simply enough, but as the diagrams from one 16th-century work show, things got incredibly elaborate over the centuries. Attributed to the ancient Greek scientist Archimedes, the Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt written in Arabic, Farsi, and Persian is more likely a compilation of previous work from Greece, Persia, and other Arabic and Byzantine sources. The water clocks combined hydraulics, gears, automata, and living animals in mechanisms like pipes fueling the signs of the zodiac and birds chirping on the hour as snakes emerge from indentations.

Bink Hallum, Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator at the British Library, writes on the Qatar Digital Library site: “Although the clocks described in these books may seem over the top by today’s standards, they were the most accurate time-keeping devices known before the first pendulum clocks were built in the seventeenth century by the Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens (1629–95).”

The best-known water clock is undoubtedly al-Jazari’s elephant. The medieval design had a pachyderm carrying a tower of mechanisms, including a bowl that gradually filled with water that triggered a ball landing in a serpent’s mouth, which in turn caused a mahout to bang a drum on the half hour. While it’s an astounding work of elephant engineering — you can even find a detailed reproduction in a mall in Dubai — it indicates the greater innovations in mechanical design happening in the Arab world during the medieval period, as well as the interchange of ideas across cultures. The animals adorning the pneumatic contraption include dragons from China and a phoenix from Egypt, with al-Jazari, based in present-day Iraq, absorbing the iconography into one device. As Professor Salim Al-Hassani told the Telegraph on the occasion of a 20-foot replica exhibited at the Science Museum London in 2010, it “gives physical form to the concept of multiculturalism” and “embodies cultural and scientific convergence of civilizations.”

Beyond wondrous water clocks, the Qatar Digital Library also features intriguing documents like alchemical treatises from the 11th–12th centuries, astrolabe diagrams, mathematics texts, astronomical charts, and historic mapping from the 9th to 19th centuries. Below are more illustrations from the 16th-century water clock manuscript, including a robotic executioner on horseback, a bird that drops cymbals as a man’s eyes change color each hour, and two human automata who rise and fall while pointing at the time.

from Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt, attributed to Archimedes (courtesy British Library, Oriental Manuscripts)

Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt, attributed to Archimedes (courtesy British Library, Oriental Manuscripts)

 

from Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt, attributed to Archimedes (courtesy British Library, Oriental Manuscripts)

Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt, attributed to Archimedes (courtesy British Library, Oriental Manuscripts)

 

from Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt, attributed to Archimedes (courtesy British Library, Oriental Manuscripts)

Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt, attributed to Archimedes (courtesy British Library, Oriental Manuscripts)

 

from Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt, attributed to Archimedes (courtesy British Library, Oriental Manuscripts)

Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt, attributed to Archimedes (courtesy British Library, Oriental Manuscripts)

 

from Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt, attributed to Archimedes (courtesy British Library, Oriental Manuscripts)

Kitāb Arshimīdas fī al-binkāmāt, attributed to Archimedes (courtesy British Library, Oriental Manuscripts)

 

View more medieval Arabic scientific documents and other historic manuscripts at the Qatar Digital Library.

 

 

Every Painter Paints Himself (www.everypainterpaintshimself.com)

I just came across this website through a friend of mine where many great works of art are explained. Please check out this website www.everypainterpaintshimself.com

Every Painter Paints Himself reveals the secrets behind true art in ways that, until now, only artists could. With short entries, encouraging you to spend more time studying images than reading our text, we demonstrate the basic themes around which poetic painters and sculptors create their works.* Once you become familiar with these little-­‐known ideas, most never before publicly revealed, you will gain the confidence to interpret art on your own and, through that essential process, experience the thrill of true aesthetic satisfaction. Understanding art, an activity once reserved for experts, becomes a revelatory experience.” – from EPPH website

 

Basic Principles of Every Painter Paints Himself

1. Art takes time. You cannot enter an exhibition unprepared, stare at a landscape and be moved, at least in the manner that artists intend. To appreciate art, you must become familiar like the artists themselves with the themes that unite art and without which craft cannot become art. It used to take years of study. Today the methods revealed here speed the process, allowing you to see almost immediately what once was hidden. Still, the truth remains: the longer you study an image, the more you will see.

2. Art is intended for artists. T.S. Eliot or another great poet once said that great poetry is not written for lovers of poetry ensconced in an armchair, nor professors of Literature at prestigious universities, nor even for literary critics or eager students. Great poetry is only written for other great poets. So it is with great art too. Nevertheless, with the now-ready availability of images, it is easier for anyone with an independent mind to understand art like a great artist does than it ever was. This site makes it easier still.

3. Art is not photography. Ever since artists re-introduced illusionism around 1500, experts have viewed art like illustration, as though “through a window”. Patrons and ordinary viewers did too. Today, even though the methodologies of scholarship regularly change, the perception through which experts view art never does. They think of art in photographic terms even if, as in many masterpieces, numerous non-realistic features defeat their illusion. Their paradigm does not allow them to think otherwise. True art, though, always depicts the inner world of the artist by its very nature. It is the unseen difference between art and craft. Once you grasp that, all changes.

4. Art is veiled. Illusionistic art is what it says: an illusion. It may look real (meaning a view of the outer world) but it never is. A battle scene, for example, is never a battle. All those weapons are paintbrushes, palette knives or, perhaps, the hammers of a sculptor and all those soldiers represent the artist and his assistants in the studio as they “battle” in the artist’s mind to create the painting. Just as we think in metaphors and then translate the same ideas into words, as linguists tell us, so art depicting thought is metaphorical too.1 Don’t take the images literally; they are visual metaphors.

5. Sight is deceptive. For people in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, reality was an illusion because the only true reality was divine. They were partly right, as scientists now know. Sight is inaccurate because, contrary to common sense, you only see what you already know. For instance, art historians, convinced that portraits portray a real sitter, never recognized that many of them resemble the artist’s own self‐portrait. [See Portraiture] They never saw these obvious resemblances because, convinced that art is “photographic”, they never imagined them. Thus, contrary to what we think about sight, we paint our own reality. Art helps us to understand that.

6. Art is esoteric. A large proportion of artists, regardless of culture, followed one of the many forms of the Inner Tradition. These include Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, Spiritual Alchemy, Theosophy and the Kaballah. In all these traditions, self-knowledge is the only true knowledge which is why every painter paints himself. Most artists, though, probably followed mystical strains of Christianity, some of which were banned by the Church, others accepted within it. All claim that reality is an illusion and that the goal of life is to “purify” the mind. The most important idea from our point-of-view is that the Bible should be read allegorically as a guide for the individual soul and that, since Man was created in the image of God, each of us can become Christ.

See the theme of The Inner Tradition for further explanation.

7. Art contains knowledge. It is little understood by conventional art historians that much of what an artist needs to know about philosophy, religion and art is contained in art itself. A Renaissance artist’s lack of formal education was thus no hindrance to his or her understanding. Indeed the knowledge and wisdom of a Renaissance craftsman was far more highly admired than scholars have even imagined.2 Fortunately, with help from this site, you too can learn to read art like an artist. Once you do, art becomes your own gateway to self-knowledge which is the only form of wisdom that has lasting value. All other knowledge is a product of your own time, perceived according to the prevailing paradigm. That will change but the knowledge conveyed in art will remain, as it does in great literature too.

8. Art makes sense. Art historians often note “errors”, “ambiguities” and “inconsistencies” in the apparent scene that do not make sense. These, they then argue, are typical of a great masterpiece because art does not need to make sense. If that were true, there would be no wisdom in the image and it would not be art. The truth is that many of the “illogical” features in a work of art are problems of the viewer’s own perception. Once the underlying scene is recognized, they make sense after all.

1. For how we think in metaphors, see Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (University of Chicago Press) 1980, esp. pp. 3-6

2. Pamela H. Smith, The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (University of Chicago Press) 2004