This article seeks to situate early Arabic illustrated Kalila wa Dimna manuscripts with regard to both text and image, and to position them within the broader context of thirteenth and fourteenth century Arab painting. The transmission of the various narratives making up the text is traced, from South Asian origins through Persia and on to its various later translations, pre-eminent among them the version by Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ. A similar proliferation of visual representations is also discussed, from eighth-century Panjikent to fifteenth-century Italy. Emphasis is placed upon the dramatic relationship between image and text as the tale unfolds. The use of fixed forms of representation may, it is suggested, shed light on their function in illustrating the ultimately oral fable form that lies behind Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s highly literary verbal dexterity. In considering the earliest illustrated Arabic manuscripts, account is taken of their potential readership and what this tells us about patterns of patronage and production. Reference is also made to the emergence of innovative techniques of visual narrative in later manuscripts.