Al-Jazari, the author of this treatise on a variety of practical and fanciful mechanical devices, served at the Artuqid court in Diyar Bakr in the late eleventh to the early twelfth century. Some of the elements of the peacock clock, run by water, are shown in this illustration. In the completed device, the arch containing two peacocks would be surmounted by another containing a peahen that would turn from right to left in the course of a half hour, causing the peacocks to whistle.
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Title:"Design for the Water Clock of the Peacocks", from the Kitab fi ma'rifat al-hiyal al-handasiyya (Book of the Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices) by Badi' al-Zaman b. al Razzaz al-Jazari
Author:Badi' al-Zaman ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari (Northern Mesopotamia 1136–1206 Northern Mesopotamia)
Date:dated 715 AH/1315 CE
Geography:Attributed to probably Syria or Iraq
Medium:Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
Dimensions:H. 12 3/8 in. (31.4 cm) W. 8 11/16 in. (22.1 cm)
Credit Line:Rogers Fund, 1955
Two Folios from the Kitab fi ma‘rifat al-hiyal al-handasiyya (Book of the Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices): MMA 55.121.15; folio 2v–2r; and al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait (MSLNS 17; fol. 17r)
Al-Jazari, the author of this treatise on a range of practical and fanciful mechanical devices, served at the Artuqid court in Diyar Bakr, completing this manuscript between 1198 and 1200. With the exception of two manuscripts attributed to the thirteenth century, the dispersed book from which these illustrations come is the earliest copy of the text. The book had its genesis in a conversation between al-Jazari and Nasr al-Din Mahmud (r. 1201–22), presumably before the latter began his reign, in which Nasr al-Din observed a device made by al-Jazari and, complimenting him on it, asked if he would compose "a book which assembles what you have created separately, and brings together a selection of individual items and pictures." Al-Jazari proceeded to write a treatise, organized in six sections, with explanations and illustrations of fifty types of devices. The sections cover: 1) the construction of clocks that show the passage of the "constant and solar hours"; 2) the construction of vessels and figures used for drinking; 3) the construction of pitchers and basins for phlebotomy and ritual washing; 4) the construction of fountains that change shape and "machines for the perpetual flute"; 5) the construction of machines for raising water; and 6) the construction of "different, dissimilar things."
The water clock of the peacocks (MMA 55.121.15; folio 2v–2r) tells the passage of the constant hours. The image (fol. 2v) contains some but not all the elements of the clock. At the top is a lobed arch (mihrab) containing two young confronted peacocks. In the completed device, the arch would be surmounted by a further arch containing a peahen, above which was a semicircle bordered by fifteen glass roundels. Another arch below the pair of peacocks would contain a single peacock. At daybreak the peahen would face right but in the course of half an hour would turn completely to the left. Half of the first roundel would turn red and the pair of peacocks would whistle loudly. After another half an hour, the peahen would turn back to the right, the roundel would turn red, and the peacocks would whistle, and so on until half an hour after sunset. At night the roundels would fill with light for the number of hours of darkness. Below the peacocks is a wheel with large scoops intersected by an axle and another wheel that should be toothed and mesh with another toothed wheel attached by a rod to a ball on which the single peacock stands. When the water fills the scoops, the wheels turn and the peacock rotates. Although the scooped wheel is depicted sideways, its axle would have been perpendicular to the back wall of the mihrab, which it would have pierced, connecting to a pipe on the inside of the house. The black lines below the peacocks represent rods, one bent and one straight, which are activated by the movement of the waterwheel, causing the peacocks to turn. The small basin at the lower right is described as an air vessel, from which air is expelled into the pipe at the right and thence into a ball that is inserted into the roof of the top mihrab where, heard but not seen, it whistles. The description (fol. 2r) proceeds with explanations for other constituents of this elaborate water clock.
In the second section, devoted to vessels and figures used for drinking, al-Jazari describes a device that consists of a figure of a slave girl, which emerges from a cupboard eight times an hour to offer a glass of wine to the ruler (al-Sabah Collection Kuwait MSLNS 17; fol. 17r). In this illustration the doors of the cupboard are omitted so that the slave girl and the other components are visible. The slave girl, made of papier-mâché, stands with feet fastened to a board set on four rollers on a slight incline. The rollers fit into channels in the floor of the compartment. In her right hand, made of copper, the slave girl holds a glass for the wine and, in the left, a cloth. Her forearm and upper arm are connected by an axle, enabling her to bend the arm. A rod extends from this axle and hooks over an iron bar attached to the side of the cupboard. Depending on whether the glass is empty or full, the rod and thus the figure’s arm move up or down. When the rod goes up, it disconnects from the iron bar and the slave girl rolls forward, pushing the doors of the cupboard open with her left hand. In the dome at the top of the cupboard is a tinned copper reservoir into which wine is poured. It drips into a tipping bucket below it. When the bucket fills with enough wine, it decants into the glass in the slave girl’s hand and the process of serving the wine begins. The king takes the wine glass, drinks the wine, uses the cloth to wipe his mouth, and returns the glass to the slave girl’s hand and raises her arm, starting the cycle again.
The manuscript from which this illustration comes has been attributed variously to Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. The inclusion of the word "al-Yaquti" in the name of the copyist must indicate his scribal affiliation with the tradition of Yaqut al-Musta‘simi, the thirteenth-century calligrapher at the court of the last Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, but it also may signify that Farrukh b. ‘Abd al-Latif studied with Yaqut himself, as the master died only in 1298. While this does not prove that the manuscript was copied in Baghdad, the figural style and treatment of the drapery have affinities with illustrations from certain thirteenth-century manuscripts produced in northern Iraq in the Jazira, such as the Maqamat (cat. 86 in this volume, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris (MS Arabe 3929; fol. 2v). Also, nimbuses, like the one ringing the slave girl’s head, appear regularly in that Maqamat manuscript but are not prevalent in the so-called Schefer Maqamat produced in Baghdad. The dearth of colophons that include the site of production hampers a more precise attribution for this manuscript and others that date from the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.
Sheila R. Canby in [Canby, Beyazit, and Rugiadi 2016]
1. Topkapı Sarayı Kütüphanesi, Diyar Bakr, dated A.H. 602/A.D. 1205–6; Ettinghausen, Richard. Arab Painting. [Lausanne], 1962, p. 95, cites the 1254 version, Topkapı Sarayı Museum (Ahmet III, 3472). See also Caiozzo, Anna. Images du ciel d’Orient au Moyen Age: Une histoire du zodiaque et de ses représentations dans les manuscrits du Proche-Orient musulman. Paris, 2003, p. 433.
2. Hill, Donald R. The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices (Kitab fıma ‘rifat al-hiyal al-handasiyya) by Ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazarı. Boston, 1974, p. 15.
3. Saint Petersburg and other cities 1990, p. 170; Robinson, B[asil] W[illiam], et al. Islamic Painting and the Arts of the Book. The Keir Collection. London, 1976, p. 71.
4. Grabar, Oleg. The Illustrations of the Maqamat. Studies in Medieval Manuscript Illumination; Chicago Visual Library Text-Fiche, 45. Chicago and London, 1984, pp. 10–11.
Inscription: In Arabic: The inscription and date of this manuscript are contained in folio 207 recto which finishes up the last chapter of the last book, continuing from folio 206 verso. Al-Jazari then makes a few remarks about the great value of his work, and beginning line 8 the scribe writes: "This manuscript is transcribed from the manuscript of the author, God's blessing be upon him. And the letters and their substitutes, and the drawing of the pictures of the chapters, and what he described, he did correctly, and wrote it with his own handwriting- may God be pleased with him." Beginning line 14 the colophon reads: "And praise be to God, the Lord of Worlds, and prayers and peace be upon Lord Muhammad and his family and all his companions. Written by the seeker after God Most High, Farkh ibn Abd al-Latif, the scribe, al-Yakuti almawlawi, praising God Most High and praying for his Prophet Muhammad and his family; at the end of Ramadan the blessed, year 715 A.H. [i.e., December 28, 1315]." (Translated by F.E. Day, 1956)
Jack S. Rofe, Scotland (until 1929; his sale, Sotheby's, London, December 12, 1929, nos. 383, 385-387, 582); [ Hagop Kevorkian, New York, by 1930–at least 1953]; [ Kevorkian Foundation, New York, until 1955; sold to MMA]
London. Science Museum, London. "The Science and Technology of Islam," April 7, 1976–September 2016.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks," November 21, 1981–January 10, 1982, suppl. #68-72.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs," April 25–July 24, 2016, no. 111a.
Robinson, Basil William. The Kevorkian Collection: Islamic and Indian Illustrated Manuscripts, Miniature Paintings and Drawings. New York, 1953. no. 1, p. 10.
Dimand, Maurice S. "An Exhibit of Islamic and Indian Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n. s., vol. 14 (December 1955). p. 90, ill. (b/w).
Atil, Esin. Renaissance of Islam : Art of the Mamluks. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981. pp. 255–57; describes Book of Knowledge of Mechanical Devices.
Brinkmann, Vinzenz, ed. Machine Room of the Gods : How Our Future was Invented. Frankfurt, 2023. p. 238, ill. fig. 217.
Canby, Sheila R., Deniz Beyazit, and Martina Rugiadi. "The Great Age of the Seljuqs." In Court and Cosmos. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 111a, pp. 189–90, ill. p. 189 (color).
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.
The Met's collection of Islamic art is one of the most comprehensive in the world and ranges in date from the seventh to the twenty-first century. Its more than 15,000 objects reflect the great diversity and range of the cultural traditions from Spain to Indonesia.