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Marvellous Creatures: Animal Fables in Islamic Art


On display in the museum’s Special Exhibitions Gallery, Marvellous Creatures focuses on the real and mythical animals that appear in the legends, tales, and fables of the Islamic world. Divided into the natural quadrants of fire, air, earth, and water, these creatures introduce well-known and beloved classics including Kalila wa Dimna, the Shahnameh, and One Thousand and One Nights. 


Glass Fish-Shaped Decoration Roman or Byzantine, Syria or Egypt 3rd–4th century Glass
Glass objects like this fish, which were also produced in the shape of other animals and birds, were used either as containers or decorative elements in Late Antique and Early Islamic glassware. When attached to the outside of glass bowls or other vessels, they would have appeared to swim on or in the liquid held within.

Make sure to visit the exhibition at the Museum of Islamic Art. Find further information about the exhibition here.


Prince Dara Shikoh riding a royal elephant’ from a Royal Album of Shah Jahan Mughal, India 1628–30 CE Artist: Balchand Ink, opaque watercolour, and gold on paper
Mughal rulers valued their elephants highly, and court artists were often commissioned to paint portraits of these valuable battle companions. This portrait is an excellent example of how Dara Shikoh, the eldest and favourite son of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, was portrayed in princely regalia in a number of albums produced at the Mughal court.

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Planispheric Astrolabe Safavid, Iran (Kerman) 17th century Artist: Hasan Husni Al Husayni Al Kirmani Brass, gilded and engraved
Astrolabes were used to project what the sky looked like at a given time of day or night, which assisted navigation by the stars on land and at sea, as well as determining the direction of prayer. The 46 star pointers of this astrolabe contain images of humans and animals, as well as fish and fish-tailed sea monsters associated with ocean voyages.

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