The Book of Felicity

The Book of Felicity f. 24v, The Image of Sagittarius


f. 24v, The Image of Sagittarius

Sagittarius, the archer, is a sort of half-feline, half-man centaur turning backwards and shooting an arrow at its own tail which ends in a dragon’s menacing head. This complex iconography, which is nonetheless the most common for Sagittarius, derives from the astronomical fact that the apogee of the constellation is in the Tail of the Dragon (dhanab al-tinnin) or Lunar Node, transformed here into a threatening beast the archer has to dispatch. The body of the feline has spots, perhaps to represent a leopard and the human section of the composite figure should be male, although his long hair is tied up in a knot like Venus, the female planet. The reflex bow is the most common type found in the Middle East. Jupiter seems to be observing the dramatic scene unfolding before his eyes while he sits floating in the sky above. He is bearded, has a large turban and wears an open tunic with overly long sleeves.
The three decades are ruled by Mercury writing on a scroll of paper, the Moon and finally Saturn wearing another fanciful hat and seeming to run out of the frame of the picture.

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

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