The British Museum

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Today we’ve been in the British Museum. If you visit London you must go there to understand the history of the World. t has been my third time there but I love it as our first time together! I am going to write two or three posts about it but today I am only going to talk about the Islamic astronomical instruments which are exhibited in floor -1 because in the frontispiece of the main entrance you can see an armilar sphere above which everybody must walk to enter the museum.

Some aspects of science in the Islamic world developed in the service of religion. The obligatory five daily prayers, performed facing Makka, and the times for fasting in the holy month of Ramadan for example, require accurate knowledge of time and direction. For many centuries Muslims used instruments, mathematical tables and certain practices of folk-astronomy to find this important information. In this way Muslim scholars reached a level of sophistication unparalleled in Europe until well into the modern age.

We have an example in this astrolabe by Abd al-Karim al-Misri (1241):

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Another important object is this astrolabe quadrant engraved by the timekeeper (muwaqqit) of the Umayyad mosque at Damascus (1334/4):

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Finally, we find this brass celestial globe with constellations by Muhammad ibn Hilal al-Munajjim al-Mawsili (Mosul, 1275/6):

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Celestial globes are representations of the night sky. They were already known in Ancient Greece. The 48 constellations described by the astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD were adopted by Islamic scholars, who then influenced European knowledge of the stars and their names. Constellations on globes are always shown in ‘globe-view’, as if seen from the outside of the sphere. In the Islamic tradition this means that human figures are represented from the front, but left-handed:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

LocationBritish Museum in London (map)

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