MANSUR BIN MUHAMMAD BIN AHMAD BIN YUSUF BIN FAQIR ILYAS. Al-Tashrih bi’l-Taswir [a treatise on human anatomy], illuminated manuscript in Farsi on fine polished paper

Timurid Persia, probably Shiraz, likely first half of fifteenth century


4to, 243 by 159mm., 23 leaves, text divided into three separate sections, apparently complete, text in single column throughout, 24 lines fine black nasta’liq with headings in red, opening of first section with rectangular panel above the text containing the blessing ‘Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim’ in large gold thuluth script set against a backdrop of spiralling vines, 5 full-page anatomical illustrations, each with red, blue and green additions, text-panels ruled in blue and gold, occasional scattered smudges or faint soiling, outer edges of leaves chipped with slight loss in places (not affecting text), some edges repaired, a few eighteenth-century inscriptions to recto of first leaf and verso of final leaf, bound in seventeenth century limp leather, painted gold or bronze, spine and edges strengthened, a little rubbed.

Mansur bin Muhammad bin Ahmad bin Yusuf bin Faqir Ilyas, known simply as Mansur bin Ilyas, was a Persian physician from Shiraz known to have compiled a number of notable scientific treatises, including the Kifaya-i Mansuri (a trestise on medicine). The present text, also known as the Tashrih-i Mansuri, is his most important work, the earliest known text to include a coloured atlas of the human body in the Arabic world.  The text was first commissioned by Fars politician and Muzazzarid ruler Zayn al-Abdin and is formed of six (or sometimes seven) independent sections including: an introduction followed by chapters relating to muscular, arterial, osseous and nervous systems, an appendix on the formation of the foetus and key compound organs. Most of these sections include an illustration depicting the full length of the human body in relation to these physical systems, the rarest of which is that depicting the foetus (present in this copy). This is a particularly important section of the work because contrary to popular opinion among both contemporary and pre-eminent physicians, Mansur bin Ilyas was of the opinion that the heart was the first compound organ to form in a foetus, and not the brain. This particular chapter of the text explains this theory and cites related arguments made by Aristotle, Hippocrates, Abu Bakr al-Razi and Hippocrates among others.

This is a notably early example of the text. Though the definitive dates of the author’s life are unknown, he is thought to have flourished in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries: and the style of illumination and script present in this copy strongly suggest it was produced in the first half of the fifteenth century. Thus the present manuscript could well have been copied only a few decades after the author’s death, and likely produced in a similar region in central Persia, quite possibly in Shiraz where the author himself flourished. The large gilt illuminated heading at the opening of the text together with the style of scribal nasta’liq and paper quality all indicate a date of production in the first half of the fifteenth century. Despite the wide margins present, there are very few marginal annotations to the codex. This indicates that the manuscript was probably used by a practising doctor or physician as a reference work instead of use by a scholar in the field of medicine. The very light weight and soft binding also strongly suggest that the manuscript was designed to be carried by a doctor going about his practice. It would take up little space and be very easy to pack. The use of gold and illumination indicate that the manuscript may well have been commissioned for a physician of the royal Timurid courts.

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