Leonardo da Vinci is said to have been influenced by a twelfth century Muslim engineer

Design for water clockImage: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Design for water clock
Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art

When Muslim rule expanded into the eastern Mediterranean regions and western Asia, they came into contact with the diverse pre-Islamic science and learning traditions of the Greeks, Persians, Indians, and Chinese. A vast movement of translation, development, and innovation took place between the eighth and ninth centuries where scientists and scholars from various religious and ethnic backgrounds worked together and achieved scientific advances.

Although several Arabic scientists worked in the field of mechanical devices in the eighth to the twelfth centuries, the most significant contribution in this field is al-Jazari’s work written in 1206. Badi al-Zaman ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari (1136-1206) wrote his mechanical treatise, the Kitab fi ma’rifat al-hiyal al-hindasiyya (Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, also known as Automata). This book included descriptions of more than one hundred devices and gadgets invented by Al-Jazzari, and was compiled for the Turkish ruler, Sultan Nasir al-Din Muhammad, who had a great fascination for machinery.

Although many of al-Jazar’s devices such as water clocks and trick vessels, the descriptions of which occupy about three-quarters of the book, have little importance in the subsequent development of mechanical technology,the detailed descriptions of the individual components and the constructional techniques are of far greater importance since centuries later many of them entered the general vocabulary of European engineering. Among the most important of these components and techniques are conical valves, casting of brass and copper in closed mold boxes with greensand, static balancing of large pulley wheels, the use of wooden templates, segmental gears, and many others. Leonardo da Vinci is said to have been influenced by al-Jazari’s automation devices and gadgets.

Al-Jazari
Image: Aga Khan Museum

This folio, depicting a blood-letting device explained in the seventh chapter, comes from an Egyptian copy dated February-March 1354. The Arabic description at the top of the page reads: “And I am showing an illustration in the shape of a wash basin, the stand, and the cylinders.”

Blood-letting is the withdrawal of blood from a patient to cure or prevent illness and disease. Based on an ancient system of medicine in which blood and other bodily fluids were regarded as “humors” that had to remain in proper balance to maintain health, this practice was common until the nineteenth century.

In this painting, the patient puts a cut finger into a hole in the basin and blood falls through the channels into a lower chamber, displacing a float. The float is attached to one end of a rod that, on its other end, attaches to the pen in the hand of the scribe on the upper left. As the level of blood in the basin rises, it pushes the float up, moving the scribe’s pen and indicating the marks on his writing board.

References:
Aga Khan Museum Online Gallery
“Science and Learning,” Pattern and Light: Aga Khan Museum, Skira Rizzoli Publications Inc., New York 2014
Encyclopaedia Britannica

Research by Nimira Dewji


subscribe ismailimailBe the First to Know – Join Ismailimail

Get breaking news related to the Ismaili Imamat, the world wide Ismaili Muslim community and all their creativity, endeavors and successes.

Inspired? Share the story

Want to inspire? Send your stories to us at Ismailimail@gmail.com

Subscribe and join 20,000 + other individuals – Subscribe now!


Earlier & Related from the Ismailimail Archives

coin-imam-mustansir-billah-i This month in history: Fatimid Caliph Imam Al-Mustansir bi’llah I passed away - The eighth Fatimid Caliph and eighteenth Ismaili Imam, Abu Tamim Ma’add al-Mustansir bi’llah I passed…
alamut Today in history: Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah succeeded to the Imamat - The twenty-seventh Nizari Ismaili Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah succeeded to the Imamat on December 1,…
acceptance-of-charter-of-aku-1983 Countdown to Diamond Jubilee – Snapshots of Imamat – 1983 to 1987 - “Although this University is new, it will draw inspiration from the greatest traditions of Islamic…
al-razi His Highness the Aga Khan: “…Central Asia, a thousand years ago, “led the world”…in cultural and intellectual development.” - “Students of world history remind us how Central Asia, a thousand years ago, “led the…
Arabesque Pluralism facilitated the development of unique styles of arabesque art - Islamic art has been produced in diverse regions using a variety of materials and patterns.…
Mawlana Hazar Imam: “…this Silver Jubilee is a symbolic affirmation of the ties between myself as Imam and the Ismaili community…” - “Indeed this Silver Jubilee is a symbolic affirmation of the ties between myself as Imam…
Edo Brooks, Alberta Edo Japan Brooks, Canada, operated by an Ismaili family from Afghanistan, receives 2016 New Business of the Year Award - Edo Japan Brooks, Alberta, Canada, operated by Barakat and Amina Allaudin, and daughters Hasina and Rosmina,…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s