Islamic and North African Infleunces
Our journey into this collection of Islamic and North African influenced objects in the Middle Ages begins with the Lusterware Bowl Sherd with Two Peacocks. Most likely created in Egypt under the Fatimid caliphate, the sherd grounds us in the context of the Islamic world and sets the stage for the larger movements that resulted in the translation and transfer of knowledge throughout Southern and Western Europe.
The Verbascum Plants, from manuscript of the De Materia Medica of Dioscorides provides information about medicines and pharmacology in Arabic. This folio was a part of one of the most widely circulated manuscripts in the Middle Ages that proliferated through Greek, Latin, and Arabic. The result of this transferring of medical knowledge could have been manifested in the Mortar and Pestle found in Italy from the 14th century, where the borders between the Islamic and western worlds were fluid. One can image a potential pharmacological use of the mortar and pestle to grind up natural medicine recommended in De Materia Medica.
As we travel along this spectrum of transfer and translation, A Treatise on the Astrolabe (c. 1400) lies on towards the far end. Written in the vernacular, Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe is one of the first scientific treatises written in English, one of the most geographically removed objects from its origin of influence. It heavily borrows from the 8th century Arabic work of Mashallah, who lived in Baghdad and whose work was later translated in Spain. Lastly, we end up the medieval astrolabe that is representative of a typical astrolabe that would be used when reading the Treatise. Found in Belgium, the astrolabe once again contains its roots in the tradition of astronomy, studied by the Greeks, and revived in the Islamic world.