Category Archives: inspiration

Make Your First Automata

Endowed birds

Birdhouse on the Ayazma Camii Mosque. Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by Celalettin Güneş

Birdhouse on the Ayazma Camii Mosque. Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by Celalettin Güneş

The photo above is a two centuries old birdhouse crafted with the same care and skill as the stonework of Ayazma Camii (Holy Spring) Mosque on which it clings.

From theromantictraveler

The charters for new mosques often included provision for feeding the birds that lived in these shelters. The Beyazit II mosque in Istanbul, built in the late 15th century, had a charter that allocated 30 pieces of gold each year to look after its birds. Even when the charter was eventually revoked in the 1920s the official then in charge of the mosque continued to feed them out of his own salary until 1947. In the great Dolmabahce Palace there’s a room that was devoted to looking after sick and injured birds.

Fazil Husnu Daglarca, the famous Turkish poet, relates how a man in Sivas used the income from two shops to look after the city’s birds, and all across turkey you come across similar endowments. In Islam there’s a tradition, at least there used to be, of endowments for everything from poor kitchens, fountains, homes for widows and alms for orphans to trousseaus for poor girls and books for libraries and colleges. Endowments providing water and grain to birds and other animals were just a part of this enlightened attitude.

You can also see more photos on a recent post at Islamic Arts and Architecture.

Hat tip (again) to Dr. Stephennie Mulder.

Rolling censer

Pierced globe Incense Burner, Mamluk period (1250–1517), late 13th–early 14th century Syria, Damascus. British Museum.

Pierced globe Incense Burner, Mamluk period (1250–1517), late 13th–early 14th century. Syria, Damascus. British Museum.

Zayn al-Din. Incense Burner or Handwarmer. 15th - 16th c. gilded brass with silver inlay. Walters Art Museum.

Zayn al-Din. Incense Burner or Handwarmer. 15th – 16th c. gilded brass with silver inlay. Walters Art Museum.

Knowing my interests, my friend and remarkable scholar, Dr. Stephennie Mulder sent me the image of the gimbaled censer above. The link to the British Museum (which seems to be dead now) stated that the gimbals keep the incense cup from spilling its contents while swinging but this seems overly fussy to me considering the centrifugal forces of swinging itself solve that problem.

Another site suggested that these type of censers were used in games and rolled from one guest to another. I suppose this would work if it were a very low impact game but any amount of velocity or impact and I think the host’s carpet would suffer some damage from errant embers.

The description of “hand warmer” makes a lot more sense to me. In this case the mechanism would function perfectly. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm that the Walters object is also gimbaled though it must have some kind of suspension for without it the orb would certainly be too hot handle with bare hands.

All these pragmatic issues aside, both of these objects are virtuosic expressions of master metal smiths and are a delight to they eyes. What a pleasure it would also be to hold one of these in my hands!

English Literature and Flemish Painting

This Christmas my wife received a really nice book from my parents titled, Bird-Watcher’s Bible published by National Geographic. We were thumbing through it the other day and came upon a painting similar to the one below. I was immediately attracted to the comically diverse flock. Chaucer’s poem that inspired the painting is titled, “Parlement of Foules.” And he writes:

Therewith a wind, scarcely it might be less,
Made in the leaves green a noise soft
Accordant to the fowls’ song aloft.

It seems unlikely that the song is “soft” owing to the paucity of song birds depicted below. What a racket. And what a mess they will leave behind.

The Parliament of Birds by Carl Wilhelm de Hamilton (1668-1754).

The Parliament of Birds by Carl Wilhelm de Hamilton (1668-1754).

Hasan Celebi: Love the art

from nicolafayerichards.blogspot.com

from nicolafayerichards.blogspot.com

“The first requirement is to love the art. Love comes before skill. If someone doesn’t desire khatt [calligraphy] they will not succeed. Today, I can’t write the Latin alphabet as my hand shakes too much. When I try to read a book, I can’t read more than 15 pages without falling asleep. But with khatt, my hand stays steady and there are times when I can study the art ten hours or more without lifting my head. Because I love it. It is also necessary to have patience, a good teaching and a good working environment. It is important to be writing everyday, especially when you’re a beginner. I tell my students they must put in 30 hours a day!” ~ Hasan Celebi

Quotation from calligraphyqalam.com

The Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi

To conquer the living by exalting the dead, Timur ordered a new shrine to be built atop the old tomb of the old mystic.

Masons, spared death in his campaigns, weave together the squares of earth that begin to spin Subhan Allah, Glorious is God, Subhan Allah, Glorious is God, all the way up to the edge of heaven’s dome and now as the bricks ascend on bent backs they grow lighter and lighter until the faithful below believe they see perfection; only those above know what compromises it takes to achieve the illusion of order; only they, clinging to the dome of heaven can see its faults: the azure tile is poorly centered and the blob of mortar dries out of place.

Death, in its own perfection, will find Timur too and at once they will all disperse leaving the vision perpetually incomplete.

Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi.  Ourplace.com

Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi.
Ourplace.com

Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi.  Ouroyster.com

Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi.
Photo by Marysia Maciocha. You can read more on her blog, or connect with her on twitter.

Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi.  Archnet.org

Shrine of Khwajah Ahmad Yasavi.
Archnet.org

Philosopher dish

“Knowledge: the taste is bitter at first, but in the end sweeter than honey. Good health [to the owner].”

Samanid epigraphic bowl. Samarqand. 11th century.