Lot 32
  • 32

Kamal al-Din al-Hasan ibn 'Ali ibn al-Hasan al-Farisi, Kitab tanqih al-manazir li dhawi al-absar wa’l-basair ('The Book of Correction of Optics for those who have Sight and Mind'), autograph copy, Persia, probably Tabriz, dated 708 AH/1309 AD

250,000 - 350,000 GBP
549,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • ink on paper - bound manuscript
  • 21.9 by 12cm.
Arabic manuscript on paper, 321 leaves plus 1 fly-leaf, 27 lines to the page written in naskh in black ink, titles in red, f.3b with an anatomical drawing of the eye, several added pages with notes in black and red naskh, copious diagrams throughout the manuscript, all in red ink, in red morocco binding with stamped gilt medallion, with flap


The first seventeen leaves from this manuscript are now in the New York Public Library (M&A 51968A). F.1a bears several ownership inscriptions and a seal impression, indicating that by the early sixteenth century the manuscript had reached the Ottoman Empire and passed into several private libraries.

The ownership inscriptions read as follows:

Mahmud ibn Muhammad ibn Musa al-Bursawi (of Bursa), Shawwal 916 (January 1511 AD). Bursawi (d.1525) was the grandson of Qadi Zade al-Rumi (d.1436), the celebrated astronomer, mathematician, and director of Ulugh Beg’s observatory at Samarqand (who also wrote a famous commentary on Umar al-Jaghmini's Al-mulakhas fi'l-Hay’a). Bursawi is also known as Miriam Celebi, one of the foremost Ottoman astronomers, who taught Sultan Bayezid II (r.1481-1512) astronomy and mathematics.

Muhammad Taqi al-Din (d.1585), the celebrated Ottoman-era polymath, active in Istanbul in the sixteenth century. Muhammad Taqi-al-Din ibn Ma’ruf al-Dimashqi was also responsible for the building of the Constantinople Observatory, under the patronage of Sultan Murad III (1574-95), and wrote extensively on astronomy, engineering, mathematics, and optics. His Kitab Nur hadaqat al-ibsar wa-nur haqiqat al-anzar is a commentary on the works of Ibn al-Haytham and Al-Farisi and mentions the two scholars in the introduction.

Below this inscription there is another note, possibly connected with the above name, stating that this volume was in Constantinople, bearing the date 961 AH (1553-54 AD). The seal impression bears the name of Mustafa ibn Salih Muhammad and the date 1037 AH (1627-28 AD).

Another ownership inscription present on f.80a and 113a bears the date 1170 AH/1756-57 AD and attests that the manuscript was in a private library of a scholar, who added his notes throughout the manuscript.

The inventory of the New York Public Library tells us that this small section (composed of seventeen leaves including one diagram on f.11b) was acquired by Jacob H. Schiff from the Haydari Collection, a prominent family of scholars  and manuscript collectors originally from Baghdad. After the death of Ibrahim Fasih al-Haydari (d.1881) his library was sold and part of it was acquired by Jacob H. Schiff, the prominent Jewish-American banker, businessman, and philanthropist. He presented it to the New York Public Library in 1934. Thus the present volume was either complete in the Haydari Collection and split at some point between 1881 and Schiff’s acquisition, or it was already separated before its acquisition by the family.

Catalogue Note

This early autograph copy of Al-Farisi's landmark work, the Kitab tanqih al-manazir, is of exceptional historical importance, drawing on the work of Ibn al-Haytham, and the earlier Greek scholars Euclid, Ptolemy, Aristotle and Galen. The present manuscript covers various elements of optics, the physics of the eye, as well as light, vision, reflection, refraction, and various theories related to mathematics and geometry. The workings of human sight are illustrated by a remarkable cross-sectional diagram, which to the best of our knowledge may be the earliest known illustration of the human eye.

Of equal importance is the provenance of the manuscript, which, as indicated by various ownership inscriptions on f.1a, was in the hands of the two celebrated Ottoman astronomers of the sixteenth century, Miriam Celebi and Muhammad Taqi al-Din.


Born in the second half of the thirteenth century in Tabriz, Kamal al-Din al-Hasan ibn 'Ali ibn al-Hasan al-Farisi (d. circa 1320 AD) grew up in Tabriz, under the rule of the Mongol Ilkhanids (1256 to 1336 AD). By 1290 AD, when he was around the age of thirty, he joined the circle of Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi (1236-1311 AD), himself a student of Nasir al-Din al Tusi.

By the time Al-Farisi joined the circle of Al-Shirazi, he already had a general knowledge of mathematics and physics, as attested by his early works on Apollonius’s Conics. However, it is the Kitab al-manazir by Ibn al-Haytham (known in medieval Europe by the Latin name 'Alhzen') that captured al-Farisi’s interest and to which he would devote more than a decade of his life. Al-Farisi was provided with an autograph copy of Al-Haytlam’s work by Qutb al-Shirazi, which he referenced throughout his text (see for example f.276b, where he mentions the manuscript copied in rajab 419 AH/July 1028 AD). With his master work Kitab tanqih al-manazir, Al-Farisi not only commented on al-Haytham’s work, but expanded and improved it significantly.

Probably one of the most vibrant scientific centres of the early fourteenth century until the fall of the Ilkhanid Empire, Tabriz in 1300 AD saw two giants of physics and medicine comment on the two major medical and physical works of the time: Ibn al-Shirazi wrote a commentary on the Qanun of Ibn Sina, while Al-Farisi commented on the Kitab al-manazir by Ibn al-Haytam. The name of al-Shirazi is mentioned several times in the present manuscript - on f.296b Al-Farisi refers directly to the Qanun commentary by al-Shirazi, a reference that implies that the two scholars were closely working together and used to discuss among each other the progresses of their works.


This manuscript is not a mere commentary on the Kitab al-manazir by Ibn al-Haytham, but to fully understand the importance of this text it is necessary to briefly mention the work at the core of Al-Farisi’s research. Al-Haytham’s Kitab al-manazir was composed in the first half of the eleventh century and explored different aspects of optics, including the theory of lights and colours, visual perception, reflection and refraction, as well as some other theories more related to mathematics and geometry (as what is now known as the Alhazen’s 'billiard problem'). Al-Haytham’s work was crucial as it collated all the knowledge on optics previously studied by Euclid, Ptolemy, Aristotle and Galen, providing a full study on the way human vision works, and how the eyes perceive light.

Although the work began as a summary of Ibn al-Haytham’s, Al-Farisi expanded the commentary, adding notes and comments, while also adding his own theory. This evolution from a mere commentary on a previous work into a collation of several treaties and expansions of other theorems makes this text key for the science of optics and a landmark in the history of physics. It is worth noting that thanks to Al-Farisi’s studies, the scientific world was provided with crucial understanding of the concept of camera obscura as well as the natural causes of the rainbow.

The text of the work is divided as follows:

Introduction (Now in the New York Public Library M&A 51968A).
Seven sections (maqala), each is a comment on Al-Haytham’s seven books, each focusing on a particular aspect of optics.
First section (maqala), divided into 8 sections (fasl): on the anatomical structure of the eye. The first, second and third sections are in the New York Public Library (f.11b bears an drawing of the eye).

The present manuscript starts in the middle of the fifth section and includes a detailed drawing of the anatomy of the eye (f.3b), listing all its parts, including the retina. This is so far the oldest anatomical drawing of the eye known.
F.16a: second section (maqala), divided into 4 sections (fasl), on the perception of vision.
F.45a: third section (maqala), divided into 7 sections (fasl), on the causes of bad vision and the best conditions for optimal sight. 
F.80b: fourth section (maqala), divided into 5 sections (fasl), on reflection.
F.113a: fifth section (maqala), divided into 2 sections (fasl), on Alhazen’s billiard problem.
F.171b: sixth section (maqala), on the error of vision caused by reflection.
F.214a: seventh section (maqala), on refraction.  
F.259a: conclusion, divided into 6 sections (fasl), the last dedicated to the rainbow (f.301a).
F.312a: appendix, on the eclipse. 
F.319b: appendix, on light.


The text has been written by more than one hand and is clearly a working copy. Thanks to the text transmitted in Al-Farisi's Kitab al-basa’ir fi 'ilm al-manazir fi'l-Hekma (a copy of which is now in the Library of Sabhsalar, Tehran, inv.no.554; dated 731 AH/1331 AD, http://ksag.com/index.php/Articles/SingleArticle/artID/16790) he states that Sa’aed ibn Muhammad ibn Musdeq a-Saghdi al-Turkistani helped him review the final version of the Tanqih al-manazir and we can advance the hypothesis that one of the hands which marks corrections and suggestions in some of the margins could be that of Al-Turkistani.

The colophon of f.321a reads: faragha min tashkil al-kitab
The use of the verb faragha combined with the word tashkil is unusual and particularly important as it places the writing of this manuscript in the entourage of Al-Farisi and not solely by the hand of the author. Faragha min tashkil al-kitab literarily means to conclude, wind up or finish off, or to add the vocalisation. This means that the great master was most likely supervising the writing of the text and was responsible for its editing and review, sealing its final version after the additions and suggestions of other scholars were added.

A copy of the present work, dated 716 AH/1318 AD is in the Topkapi Palace Library, Ahmed III, MS 3340, whilst other copies of this work can to be found in libraries in Cairo, Leiden, St. Petersburg and Tehran (see B.A. Rosenfeld – E. Ihsanoglu, Mathematicians, Astronomers & Other Scholars of Islamic Civilisation and their Works (7th – 19th C.), Istanbul, 2003, p.236, no.674. See also Brockelmann S.I. p.853; S.II. p.295).

A further copy of the Tanqih, copied in Edirne, and dated 917 AH/1511-12 AD, is in the National Library of Israel, Jerusalem (JER NLI YAH. AR 384). The manuscript bears a close similarity to the present copy, particularly in the execution of the diagrams (see, for example, the almost identical illustrations of the human eye - f.3b in the present copy). The Jerusalem manuscript also bears more than one marginal annotation stating that it was copied from the original, and refers to the hand of the author (Al-Farisi) himself. Due to the closeness of the drawings, we can surmise that it may well have been copied from the present manuscript. Interestingly, the Ottoman astronomer Miriam Celebi (whose ownership inscription appears on f.1a of the present manuscript) lived in Edirne, dying there in 1525, and it seems quite possible that the Jerusalem manuscript was copied from the present version in Edirne, whilst the latter was in his possession.

A Timurid copy of the present work, dated 899 AH/1494 AD, sold in these rooms, 25 October 2017, lot 23.