The Wonders of Creation and the Singularities of Painting

Free Public Lecture

The Wonders of Creation and the Singularities of Painting

Islamic Museum of Australia
Function Room
15a Anderson Street, Thornbury


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Macgeorge Fellowship Public Lecture

This lecture explores one of the most intriguing books of the medieval Islamic world. The Wonders of Creation and the Oddities of Existing Things is an encyclopedia of the natural world written by the legal scholar Zakariya ibn Muhammad al-Qazvini (1202–83), who worked under the late Abbasids and the early Mongol Ilkhanids in Iraq. The book was extremely popular and is known in many surviving manuscripts, virtually all of them heavily illustrated. The text describes such things as survival from shipwrecks, encounters with giant whales, people living in trees, dog-headed people, giant birds, pirates, and pygmies. It condenses all kinds of accurate as well as plainly fanciful information that the author gathered from previous sources and from descriptions by Arab travelers who journeyed across the seas.

Dr Carboni has been working on the Wonders of Creation for several years and he examined this extraordinary manuscript in detail in a book published in 2015. This lecture will focus on one of the most important early copies, produced in the first decades of the 14th century probably in Mosul (British Library Or. 14140). The lecture will address the manuscript in general and the role of wonders and images within it, setting this against the background of book production under the Ilkhanids: its painters create lively illustrations that were new and distinct from the conventions of natural history imagery that became standard for Qazvini’s text, giving this manuscript a special place both in the history of the book and in the history of medieval Islamic art.

Supported by the Macgeorge Bequest

Image: "The Archangels Gabriel and Michael". Page from an illustrated copy of the Wonders of Creation by Zakariya ibn Muhammad al-Qazvini, ca.1300-10. British Library, Or. 14140, fol.12r


  • Dr Stefano Carboni
    Dr Stefano Carboni, Director and CEO