Between the 11th and 18th centuries, the Islamic world absorbed and interpreted lessons from classical Greece and Rome, leading to advances in science, medicine and philosophy — and finding expression in astonishing manuscripts and objects.
Those items are the focus of “Romance and Reason: Islamic Transformations of the Classical Past,” at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World through May 13. The exhibition includes manuscripts from Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and India, along with ancient Islamic and Greek artifacts. The collection shows how the medieval Islamic world grappled with and adapted concepts from ancient Greece.
On display are treasures such as the Canon of Medicine, a medical treatise written by Avicenna, a scientist born in 10th-century Uzbekistan, and manuscripts that put an Islamic spin on ancient Greek medical works.
There’s astronomy, too, including books on the shapes of stars and constellations. And beautifully illustrated textbooks show how Islamic mathematicians took Greek geometry and turned it into al-jabr, or algebra.
The free exhibition is a collaboration with the National Library of Israel, and it combines some of that library’s treasures with those from American museums and libraries.
Each object is a work of art, including colorful books that underscore their lessons with paintings and delicate ink work, and statues and bowls that show a once-respected branch of science that’s no longer considered reliable: astrology.
Want to dive in even further? The exhibition includes guided tours and lectures, and if you can’t admire the manuscripts in person, head to isaw.nyu.edu/exhibitions/romance-reason for an online look.