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Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
Overall: 31.3 x 21.5 cm (12 5/16 x 8 7/16 in.)
Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1945.383.a
The mouth of the peacock acts as a spigot pouring water; the figure emerged from a small door and offers soap to the hand washer.
This leaf from a 1315 Syrian copy of Ibn al-Razzāz al-Jazarī’s The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, written in 1206, depicts a peacock basin automaton for ritual hand washing. There are 15 surviving manuscript copies of al-Jazarī’s work, ranging from the early 13th to the late 19th century. An engineer from upper Mesopotamia, al-Jazarī was in the service of King Nasrī al-Dīn when he completed his masterwork, an anthology of automated devices including clocks, trick vessels for drinking sessions, devices for washing, fountains, water-raising machines, and measuring instruments. His designs clearly illustrate that automata were not innovations from Western Europe, but they stemmed from a tradition known in the ancient, Islamic, and Byzantine worlds. We do not know with certainty that al-Jazarī’s device was ever actually constructed.
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