The Book of Felicity

The Book of Felicity f. 79r, The Church of the Starlings

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f. 79r, The Church of the Starlings

This illustration represents another case of mistaken identity by the artist when it is compared to the corresponding image in the Kitab al-bulhan (f. 43v). There, the title is erased but the painting clearly shows that the birds have small objects in their beaks, something that was omitted by the present artist. In addition, the original illustration, like the two preceding ones, is set in a church or monastery with a conspicuous monk. Even without the title, the church can be identified with another story found in the Kitab sukkardan, in which a monastery is described as being the place where an enormous number of starlings congregate once a year, each carrying one olive in its beak and two in its feet. They sit in the trees and drop the olives to the ground where the monks collect them and subsequently sell them, thus being able to sustain themselves for the rest of the year. The monastery is supposed to be located in Anatolia.
The painting in the Ottoman version shows two men speaking to each other across the fences that surround their homes in a rural landscape marked by a zigzag track, low trees in addition to the taller tree with the birds, and a hilly background. The hands of the two seem to gesture in surprise at the sight of the four starlings in the tree, but the scene is a far cry from the original intention of the illustration.

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

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