Mind and Hand: Early Scientific Instruments from al-Andalus, and ʿAbbas ibn Firnas in the Cordoban Umayyad Court

In: Muqarnas Online
Glaire D. Anderson School of History of Art, University of Edinburgh

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This essay explores the symbiotic relationship between visual culture and the exact sciences that is revealed by the career of ʿAbbas b. Firnas (d. circa 876), as recounted in the Cordoban court chronicle compiled by the historian Ibn Hayyan (d. 1076), and by early scientific instruments from al-Andalus. Ibn Firnas is today remembered as a polymath and early scientist, yet neither historians of art nor of science have fully explored the implications of his reputation among medieval intellectuals as the wellspring of an Andalusi tradition of fine scientific instrumentation. This essay considers the Arabic account of Ibn Firnas as a maker of such objects, alongside early scientific instruments, exploring what these reveal about connections between elite intellectual culture and craft, between science and art making. It argues that considering the objects and texts in tandem reveals that intellectuals, especially those working in the exact sciences, were also “makers” of medieval Islamic visual culture.

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