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Arabic poetry illuminated by a German artist

Bernstein, Georg Szafieddini Hellensis ad Sulthanum Elmelik Eszdzaleh Schemseddin Abulmekarem ortokidam carmen Arabicum. E codice manu scripto Bibliothecae Regiae Parisiensis edidit. Interpretatione et Latina et Germanica annotationibusques illustravit D. Georgius Henricus Bernstein, orientis litterarum in Universitate Litteraria Regia Berolinensi professor. Leipzig Carl Tauchnitz 1816
First edition. Folio (37 x 27 cm); pp. 24, [1, blank], [6-1, Arabic text], [1, blank]; printed on vellum in Latin, German, and Arabic; the 6 pages of Arabic text with elaborately illuminated headpiece, tailpiece, and text frames, in gilt and colours, mingling elements of Mamluk,Indian, Iranian, and Ottoman illumination with European designs, the headpiece signed "A. Brückner pinx: 1816". In late nineteenth-century half morocco with boards of gilt paper blind-stamped in elaborate, Japonist patterns, corners and spine blind-ruled, spine with raised bands and morocco label; very slight wear to edges, and one short split to top of upper board's hinge, but both joints firm; a few areas of marginal discolouration to the vellum, but illumination clean and vibrant.

A remarkable work of book art, combining printing on vellum in roman and Arabic scripts with a fascinating scheme of illumination. The text comprises a critical edition of a single ode by Safi al-Din Abd al-Aziz ibn Saraya al-Hilli (circa 1278-1348), court poet of the Turkmen Artukids at Mardin, prepared by Georg Heinrich Bernstein (1787-1816), professor of oriental literature at the University of Berlin. Biographical details on al-Hilli are suprisingly scarce, though he was a renowned poet in his day, and an interesting example of a Shi'a who lived and served at a Sunni court. Bernstein provides a critical apparatus in Latin, together with Latin and German translations, and an Arabic text, largely prepared from a manuscript held at the Bibliotheque Nationale. The remarkable, attractive illumination of the Arabic text, executed and signed by A. Brückner, is an early example of orientalist interest in Islamic art, and foreshadows the elaborate facsimile printings later in the nineteenth century in Britain, France, and Germany, and the production of Islamic pattern books. But, crucially, Bruckner here fuses multiple styles of illumination - geometric frames drawn from Mamluk illumination, a headpiece clearly based on Safavid manuscripts, gilt panels floreated in colours suggestive of the rich illumination of late eighteenth-century Ottoman manuscripts, and illuminated frames whose colours echo those of eighteenth-century Indian manuscripts, the whole stitched together with more European patterns. Though we have been unable to identify Brückner, he clearly had access to a number of Islamic manuscripts. The Arabic type used has noticeable and attractive serifs, and displays an impressive degree of elongation in its lines, with the long descenders of final consonants overlapping the following word. Tauchnitz published this work in a folio paper edition, and the present illuminated edition on vellum. It is no. 22121 in Ebert's General bibliographical dictionary (Oxford, 1837), which describes it as a "splendid edition... which was prepared on hot-pressed English vellum-paper, with gold and coloured marginal lines after the manner of an oriental MS", and notes a copy on vellum presented to the royal library at Dresden by Tauchnitz. The degree of illumination in paper copies appears to have varied considerably - Munich holds a copy with comparable illumination, unsigned, but most copies appear to have had much plainer schemes of illumination in a handful of colours. We have located no other copies on vellum; it seems likely that no more than two or three were produced, perhaps one for Tauchnitz and one for Bernstein.