Touring the Sense Scapes of Islamic Manuscripts with Fatih Han

March 1, 2024

In his presentation “’Tafaḍḍal, Come in and Delve!’—How to Sense the In/Visible Space in Manuscripts of the Islamic World,”  Fatih Han showcased an engaging array of books from Firestone Library’s Special Collections dating from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries.

Fatih Han presents a thick old manuscript to a group of 7 attendees

Fatih Han presents a Mamluk Qur'an from circa 1300 (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)

Preparing attendees for an immersive experience, Han asked them to think carefully about how they define, visualize, and experience a space.

Noting the scholarship centered around this question, he outlined interpretations classifying architecture as a kind of skin, for example, which is permeable to and protective of and against space all at once.

Han painted the experience of space as set within a rich sensory landscape, one which can be accessed in the pages of a manuscript, as well.

Attendees huddle around an old manuscript depicting an old map of the world

Fatih Han and attendees examine Kharīdat al-ʻAjā'ib wa Farīdat al-Gharā'ib (The perfect pearl of wonders and the precious pearl of extraordinary things) by Sirāj al-Dīn Abū Ḥafṣ ʻUmar Ibn al-Wardī,1349 (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)

Han began the sensory tour of the selected manuscripts with the Mamluk Qur'an from circa 1300. 

As attendees took in the opening pages, he played his favorite recitation of the text written on them to elaborate the sensory experience. 

Rich with intricate motifs of deep blue and black seared into a golden ambiance that almost hovers above the pages, the surrounding imagery works in concert with this sacred text, which calls for its reader to conjure the invisible space where God is.

Eric White has his nose in a manuscript as attendees and Fatih Han look on, smiling

Eric White delves into ʻAjāʼib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharāʼib al-mawjūdāt by Qazwīnī, Zakarīyā ibn Muḥammad, approximately 1203-1283 (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)



As the group followed Han through the manuscripts, from one sensory landscape to the next, they all but climbed into the pages, examining symbols and embellishments, perspective trickery that checkered interior with exterior spaces, hidden storylines, subtleties in facial expressions, and unexpected characters like winged angels and beavers.

Han's presentation reflects his particular area of interest; "I am interested in cross-cultural material culture, specifically Islamic objects with Christian imagery, their sensorial qualities and movement within architectural spaces," he said.

His interest in the sense-scapes of art objects took him on an adventurous tour of Cairo's Mamluk mosque lamps in winter 2023.

Fatih Han points to a world map in an old manuscript as four attendees closely observe

Fatih Han and attendees examine Kharīdat al-ʻAjā’ib wa Farīdat al-Gharā’ib (The perfect pearl of wonders and the precious pearl of extraordinary things) by Sirāj al-Dīn Abū Ḥafṣ ʻUmar Ibn al-Wardī,1349 (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)