The Book of Felicity

The Book of Felicity f. 84r, The Mountain of the Birds


f. 84r, The Mountain of the Birds

In a painting reminiscent of a famous image of the congregation of all species of birds in search of God in the mystical poem entitled Mantiq al-tayr (The Conference of the Birds) by Farid al-Din cAttar, many different kinds of birds fly around a tall rock or stand on it. Easily identifiable are a pair of hoopoes, of parrots and of partridges, a crane, a peacock, a falcon and seven others of more generic appearance giving a total of sixteen. Atop the rock is a small, domed, brick building around which several of the birds are circling.
The story of the Mountain of the Birds is told by several Arab and Persian geographers, including al-Qazwini, al-Qalqashandi, al-Mahalli and the author of the Kitab sukkardan. They all agree that it is situated in Upper Egypt near the shores of the river Nile. One particular day of the year a large number of birds, described in the texts as being white with black neck and wings, congregate around this mountain and one of them inserts its beak in the narrow opening of the dome and remains there for an entire year, following which it dies and its place is taken by another bird. The only explanation for this phenomenon is that they are attracted by a magic spell. The illustration, which is virtually identical to its model in the Kitab al-bulhan, shows one of the birds approaching the narrow opening in the domed building, just moments away from inserting its beak into it. Here it may perhaps be a duck whereas the Oxford painting shows a crane already stuck into the dome.

Stefano Carboni
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Curatorial Assistant in Islamic Art
 (Fragment of the Book of Felicity commentary volume)

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