Lot 12
  • 12


80,000 - 120,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • 22.6 by 15.5cm.
Arabic manuscript on paper, volume I with 75 leaves, volume II with 69 leaves, 37 lines per page written in clean black naskh in black ink, titles written in thicker black ink, significant words in red, f.1a of vol.I with an illuminated dedicatory shamsa, later seal impressions throughout

Catalogue Note

The corpus of Ibn Sina's Qanun is divided into five volumes dealing with different aspects of the human body and its cure. It is rare that more than one volume of the same corpus survives, making this set of two volumes quite exceptional. The author and the text

Born in 980 AD in Afshana near Bukhara, in Greater Khurasan, Ibn Sina was given a fine education from a young age, thanks to the position of his father as an official in the Samanid government. When he was eighteen he became a qualified physician and was hailed for curing the Amir of Khurasan of a severe illness. As a most precious reward he was given access to the extensive library of the Samanid princes, where he would spend countless hours immersed in scholarly work.

Known as Avicenna in the West, Ibn Sina can be regarded as the most influential writer in the history of medicine. His unparalleled al-Qanun fi'l tibb or 'The Canon of Medicine', completed circa 1025 AD, gathered the totality of medical knowledge at the time. A dedicated intellectual, he spent the latter part of his life at Isfahan, unexpectedly dying during an expedition to Hamadan in 1037 AD.

The first kitab talks generally about medical principles, anatomy and the effects of the environment on human health while the second volume lists alphabetically several medicines and simple drugs, with their properties and side-effects; the third concerns specific pathology and diseases of various parts of the body, from head to toe; the fourth is on more general diseases which affect the whole body (for examples fevers, leprosy and fractures), and the last kitab deals with medical recipes and therapeutic drugs. 

These volumes and their context

In 1264 AD Hulegu confirmed Malik Sadr al-Din as the governor of thev province of Tabriz and shortly after the city became the official Ilkhanid capital under Abaka Khan (r.1265-82 AD). It is in this vibrant centre that the physician Abdulaziz ibn Abdulhamid ibn Uthman copied the Qanun and, along with the main text, diligently copied all the marginal notes from his master copy. The balanced hand, the fine title page and chapter headings show that this was definitely an important copy, not for everyday use.

In the margins there are several references to other medical texts by Galen and Hippocrates, as well as statements that this copy was checked against several versions of the Qanun. Among these glosses Ibn Sina is referred to as al-musanif, a way of referring to Ibn Sina that was extensively used by Ibn al-Tilmidh (d.1165 AD). Ibn al-Tilmidh was a renowned Syriac Christian physician active in Baghdad who wrote a famous commentary on the Qanun. A copy of the Qanun itself was copied by al-Tilmidh, some fragments of which have survived, in which he made marginal annotations that strongly relate in their use of language to those found in the present manuscript. Therefore it is in fact possible that the present two volumes were copied from the now lost books (one and two) of an autograph manuscript written by Ibn al-Tilmidh which was, in turn, copied from Ibn Sina's original Qanun (see A.Z. Iskandar, A descriptive list of Arabic Manuscripts on Medicine and Science at the University of California, Los Angeles, 1994, p.13 for more on Ibn al-Tilmidh's autograph copy and commentary of the Qanun).

For some unknown reason, the volumes were not illuminated, although this was clearly the intention, as a large space left blank for illumination is clearly visible on f.3b) and only later was an illuminated shamsa added to f.1a.

The opening dedicatory shamsa has unfortunately been damaged and is not fully legible. The decipherable section of the inscription reads Ghiath al-Dunya wa'l-Din Sultan Muhammad ibn Sultan Ar…. Bosworth lists several rulers with the name Ghiyath al-Din but none bears the name Muhammad or Ibn Ar (...) (for a full list see Bosworth 2004). Most likely the ruler here mentioned is Muhammad Khudabanda Oljeytu [Uljiaytu], Ghiyath al-Din, son of Arghun, who reigned from 1304-16 AD. Under his patronage and after his conversion to Islam, the cities of Tabriz and Maragha became centres of learning with the development of sciences. Only later, in 1303, did Oljeytu move the Ilkhanid capital to Sultaniyya, near Qazwin (see Bosworth 2004, p.250). The dedicatory inscription of the Oljeytu Mosul Qur'an in the British Library names the above ruler using the same order of titles and names (see James 1988, pp.108-9).

Most of the shamsas dated to the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth century are of round shape, with a central medallion bearing an inscription, surrounded by split-palmettes, floral motifs and geometrical interlace (see, for example, the opening shamsas illustrated in Richard 1997, nos.18, 20 and 22). A more oval and elongated form developed from the beginning of the fourteenth century and became more common over the following centuries (see Richard 1997, nos.21 and 28 for fourteenth-century examples). The fine design of interlacing palmettes against a dark ground recalls the opening illumination of a Qur’an now in the Keir Collection (Robinson 1976, plate 143), which can be seen as the Ottoman evolution of the present prototype.