Maqamat Al-Hariri

Maqamat Al-Hariri Facsimile Edition

Iraq — First half of the 13th century

Hariri's anecdotes of mischievous characters: a high point in Islamic illumination and one of the most famous manuscripts of the entire Islamic Middle Ages

  1. Maqāmah is a genre of Arabic literature consisting of entertaining anecdotes about roguish characters

  2. Al-Hariri of Basra (1054–1122) is credited with creating the principle work of this literary genre

  3. The finest specimen was made in 1236/37 by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti, a 13th century Iraqi painter and calligrapher

Maqamat Al-Hariri

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Maqamat Al-Hariri

This manuscript simultaneously represents the finest surviving specimen of the Maqamat Al-Hariri or The Assemblies of Al-Hariri and also features some of the most famous images of daily life in the medieval Islamic world. The work by Al-Hariri of Basra (1054–1122) consists of 50 short stories taking place across the Arab world. The specimen of the work at hand was transcribed and illustrated by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti, a 13th century Iraqi painter and calligrapher. The 99 miniatures, rendered vividly but subtly with a diverse color palette and gold leaf, can be found in almost any book regarding medieval Islamic art and culture. The manuscript created by al-Wasiti in southern Iraq between 1236 and 1237 is unrivalled among the manuscripts created of this popular text, which appeared in manuscripts from as far away as Spain and continued to be presented in illuminated manuscripts until the 18th century.

Maqamat Al-Hariri

Maqāmah is a genre of Arabic literature consisting of entertaining anecdotes about various roguish characters in the form of a “prosimetrum”, a combination of prose and verse, which blends social and moral commentary. The genre was initiated by Al-Hamadhānī (969–1008), an Arabic author who lived throughout modern Iran and Afghanistan, and is characterized by the refinement of the Arabic used to write it. Known simply as Al-Hariri of Basra, Abū Muhammad al-Qāsim ibn Alī ibn Muhammad ibn Uthmān al-Harīrī (1054–1122) is credited with creating the principle work of the genre, the Maqamat Al-Hariri or The Assemblies of Al-Hariri. It contains 50 short stories, each of which bears the title of the city where that story occurs. They are centered on two characters: Abu Zayd, a roguish Syrian from Saruj, and al-Harith, a naive travelling merchant and the narrator of the story, who meet at these various locales. The Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris is proud to house the finest specimen of this tale, which was created by Yahya ibn Mahmud al-Wasiti, a 13th century Iraqi painter and calligrapher.

A Beloved Arabic Text

The success of this text is due to the extraordinary language used by Al-Hariri, which is both sophisticated and playful: double and even triple puns, the unusual usage of words, and elaborate grammatical constructions demonstrate the Arabic language’s full range of expression. Such manuscripts were popular among the wealthy and educated laity of the Islamic world. The work’s popularity reached across the Mediterranean to Al-Andalus, Moorish Spain, where it was translated into Hebrew ca. 1218 by the poet and rabbi Yehuda Alharizi, who went on to write his own Maqamat, inspired to create a work that would elevate Hebrew to the heights reached by Al-Hariri. Illuminated Arabic manuscripts continued to be produced up to the 18th century, and the work has enjoyed translations into many languages. Produced in southern Iraq, then part of the Abbasid Caliphate, this most splendid manuscript of the work represents a high point of Islamic book art and is one of the most famous manuscripts of the entire Islamic medieval period.

Islamic Illumination at its Best

From 1236 to 1237, al-Wasiti transcribed and illustrated the work, which aside from its fine calligraphy, also distinguishes itself through both the quantity and quality of its adornment, consisting of 99 of the finest miniatures in all of Arabic art. Al-Wasiti’s miniature painting is of "outstanding quality with fine composition, expressive figures, and vivid but controlled colors" and provides readers with a "fascinating series of glimpses into and commentaries on 13th-century Islamic life." The imagery created by al-Wasiti appears in every book on medieval Arabic art and culture because of the realism with which they depict everyday life in the Islamic world, especially activities of the educated middle class such as travelling, visiting the library or mosque, appearing before a judge, or bidding at the slave market. They are as iconic for Arabic art as the miniatures of the Morgan Crusader Bible are for Christian art, with the notable difference that the latter is full of graphic depictions of war while the former neglects military matters altogether. The realism of al-Wasiti is blended with amusing depictions of people that border on caricatures and the scenes’ expressiveness makes it possible to interpret them without the text. A wide but subtle variety of colors and shades as well as the use of gold leaf rounds the appearance of this unparalleled work.


Alternative Titles
Scherer Hariri
Size / Format
334 pages / 38.0 × 27.0 cm
First half of the 13th century
99 miniatures
50 short stories on everyday life
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Maqamat Al-Hariri – Ms. arabe 5847 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France) Facsimile Edition
TouchArt – London, 2003
Limited Edition: 2000 copies
Facsimile Editions

#1 Maqamat Al-Hariri

TouchArt – London, 2003

Publisher: TouchArt – London, 2003
Limited Edition: 2000 copies
Commentary: 1 volume by Oleg Grabar, Paul Neville, Jeanne Bouniort and Jan Liebelt
Languages: Arabic, English, French, German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
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