AN EIGHTH CENTURY TREATISE ON GLASS
Kitab al-Durra al-Maknuna
(The Book of the Hidden Pearl)
of Jabir ibn Hayyan
ON COLOURED GLASS, ON LUSTRE GLASS,
ON GEMSTONES AND PEARLS
Part One [i]
The Manufacture of Coloured Glass
Jabir ibn Hayyan wrote in the eighth century a practical treatise of technical recipes dealing with the manufacture of coloured glass, making lustre glass, producing coloured gemstones and the culture and polishing of pearls and other practical recipes related to this craft.
This is a unique treatise. It is number 36 in the Fihrist [ii] of Ibn al-Nadim, number 45 in Kraus’s catalogue, and number 39 among the One Hundred and Twelve Books of Jabir.
In maqala (article) 28 of Kitab al-khawass al-kabir Jabir gives recipes of technical chemistry. In describing in detail a gemstone called adrak which rivals corundum in its hardness, he concludes this recipe by saying: “and pour it in it, as we have mentioned in Kitab al-durra al-maknuna and you will get what you like if God wills”.[iii]
وافرغه فيه كما ذكرنا في كتاب الدرة المكنونة يجيك ما تحب ان شاء الله
In maqala 29 which deals also with technical chemistry Jabir says:
“And we have mentioned something similar in our discussion of glass and its working, and Chinese ceramics in Kitab al-durra al-maknuna , so work according to it because it is one of the miracles in practical works.” [iv]
وقد ذكرنا مثل ذلك في الزجاج واعماله والغضار الصيني في كتاب الدرة المكنونة فاعمل به فانه من العجائب في الاعمال.
In maqala 68 Jabir says also: “If the waters were sharp, then use Pharaonic glass the manufacturing of which was discussed in our book al-durra al-maknuna which is among the One Hundred and Twelve Books. Know this since it has no allegories and no superfluities” [v]
فان كانت المياه حادة فمن الزجاج الفرعوني الذي ذكرنا عمله في كتابنا المسمى بالدرة المكنونة من جملة الكتب المائة والاثنى عشر فاعلم ذلك فانه لا رمز فيه ولا زيادة والسلام.
Apart from these references, no complete manuscript of this treatise was known to exist when Kraus compiled his catalogue [vi]. But while we were searching for Jabir’s anuscripts in the Bibliotheque Nationale of France, this treatise was unexpectedly found in B.N. MS Arabe 6915 which was acquired by B.N. at a recent date, having been listed only in 1987.[vii]
The treatises in this collection (majmu’a) include several valuable ones that were inscribed and edited by Muhammad ibn Maymun ibn ‘Umran al-Marrakishi when he was residing at al-Madrasa al-Nizamiyyah in Baghdad in 650/1252. The treatises in this collection are: K. al-durra al-maknuna of Jabir (folios 1a-24b); a treatise on making coloured glass and gemstones composed by al-Marrakishi as disclosed to him by an artisan experienced in this craft (24b-33a); K. musahhahat Iflaton of Jabir which is the major treatise in the collection and occupies about half of the folios (33a-91a) ; K. sina’at al-tibb al-nabawi which is a practical treatise ascribed to Jabir containing alchemical, medical, talismanic and curious recipes (92a-108b); then after a short recipe ascribed to Jabir for the preparation of salt (108b-109a), follows Hirz al-Hakim the Fatimid Caliph (109a-123b); and the collection ends with an alchemical treatise which al-Marrakishi ascribes to his mother (123b-133a).
Contents of Kitab al-Durra al-Maknuna
Jabir says at the start of K. al-durra that he did not deal with this art (the coloured glass and related topics) in his other books because he devoted to it this book which he called al-durra al-maknuna which alone contains this science.
أمّا بعد فانّا لم نذكر في جملة كتبنا هذا الفن لأنا أفردنا له كتابنا هذا وسميناه الدرة المكنونة فجعلنا هذا العلم فيه دون ساير كتبنا.
The treatise can be divided into four main themes. The first is on the manufacture of coloured glass. The second is on lustre painting of glass. The third is on the colouring of gemstones with descriptions of two furnaces for this purpose. The fourth is concerned with the treatment of pearls and gives recipes for glues and other related materials.
The Manufacture of Coloured Glass
There are about 46 original recipes for producing coloured glass in addition to about 12 recipes inserted by al-Marrakishi. The typical procedure is to prepare a batch composed of clear or Pharaonic glass and the colouring materials. The ingredients are ground finely and put in a luted pot which is placed inside a glass furnace until the contents are melted.
We gave tentative numbers to Jabir’s recipes. These numbers are used below for convenience.
The following list is arranged alphabetically showing the frequency of occurrence:
cornelian stone (‘aqiq), 1; Tin (anuk) foil, 1; Dross of brass (barani), 4; Billaur (rock crystal), 1; Borax, 2; Copper scales, 1; Copper filings, 1; Copper, burnt, 5; Malachite (dahnaj), 4; Dragon’s blood, 4; Eggs’ shells, 1; Glass, 31; Glass, Pharaoanic, 5; Calcified copper (halqus), 3; Pebbles (hasa), 8; Calamine (iqlimiya), gold, 2; Iron (steel),scales, 2; Iron, saffron, 4; Iron, filings, 3; Red lead (isrinj), 16; Curcuma roots, 1; Cobalt blue (lazaward), 3; Magnesia, 18; Rock crystal (maha), 2; Marble, 1; Marcasite, 3; Litharge (martak), 6; Mercury, 1; Red clay (mughra), 2; Natrun, 8; Oil dregs (‘akar), 1; alkali, 7; alkali, salt, 2; Green copperas (qalqant) , 1; Cinnabar (qinbar and zunjufr), 2; Copper scales (rusakhtaj), 10; Hematite (sadhanj), 7; Sal-ammoniac water, 1; Salt, 2; Sand, Egyptian for glass, 1; Silver, burnt, 1; Sulphur, 1; Talc, 2; Tin filings, 2; Tin, burnt, 1; Tin, ceruse (isfidhaj), 1; Tin, killed, 1; Tincar, 1; Tutia, green, 3; Lead (usrub), 1; Lead (usrub) filings, 1; Lead (usrub), burnt, 2; Vitriol (zaj), 2; Realgar (zarnikh ahmar), 3; Orpiment (zarnikh asfar), 4; Cuprum acetum (zinjar), 7.
Arranged according to their descending frequency these materials are:
Glass, including pharaoanic glass, pebbles ‘hasa’, rock crystal (maha and billaur), and sand which occurs in every recipe; then follows magnesia, lead ( burnt, filings, litharge ‘martak’, red lead ‘isrinj’), copper (burnt, filings, scales ‘rusakhtaj’, calcified ‘halqus’ and cuprum acetum ‘zinjar’), iron, (saffron, filings , scales, hematite ‘sadhanj’), natrun, alkali and alkali salt, tin (filings, foil, burnt, ceruse ‘isfidhaj’, killed), dross of brass (barani), malachite (dahnaj), orpiment (zarnikh asfar), realgar (zarnikh ahmar), dragon’s blood (dam al-akhawayn, qatir), cobalt blue (lazaward), marcasite, tutia, borax, calamine (iqlimiya), red clay (mughra), salt, talc, vitriol (zaj), cinnabar (qinbar, zunjufr), cornelian stone (‘aqiq), eggs’ shells, curcuma roots, marble, mercury, oil dregs, sal-ammoniac, silver (burnt), sulphur, tincar.
Selected Recipes for
Producing Coloured Glass
Recipe 1, fol. 1a – A twin-faced glass, one face red and one face green, which is nice.
Take four dirhams of red lead (isrinj), one dirham of dragon’s blood (dam al-akhawayn) , one dirham of curcuma roots, one dirham of copper hammerscale (rusakhtaj) [viii], and one dirham of red marcasite. Grind them all and throw them on one ratl of glass. Put these in an earthenware pot and place it in the glass-makers furnace. Use the same procedure in the other recipes which I am discussing. (Al-Marrakishi, the editor, adds that the pot should be luted.).
Recipe 2, fol. 1a – Red with a navy blue hue
One hundred dirhams glass, copper burnt with fire (nuhas muharraq) fifteen dirhams, tin ten dirhams, cobalt blue (lazaward) one dirham. Melt if God wills.
Recipe 3, fol. 1a – Another Green
Burnt copper three dirhams, dragon’s blood (dam al-akhawayn) one dirham, red lead three dirhams. These are thrown on one ratl of glass and melted if God wills.
Recipe 4, fol. 1b – Yellow with a green hue
One hundred dirhams of Pharaonic glass, throw on them twenty dirhams of tin filings, and five dirhams of copper burnt three times. Grind the burnt copper finely and mix it with the tin filings and throw the whole on the glass and melt them.
Recipe 5, fol. 1b – Another yellow with a purple (farfiri) hue
Take one hundred dirhams[ix] of Pharaonic glass. Add to it thirty dirhams of burnt lead and six dirhams of cuprum acetum (zinjar) borax, (which is copper burnt with sal-ammoniac according to al-Marrakishi). Melt the ingredients.
Recipe 8, fol. 1b – Rose Pharaonic glass
Throw two parts of male magnesia on every one hundred parts of glass. When melted, it will show red streaks. This is nice and rare.
Recipe 10, fol. 1b – Another yellow with good yellowness
Throw on every one hundred dirhams of glass twenty dirhams of clarified litharge extract (martak). Melt as I have indicated.
Recipe 12, fol. 2a – A more intense yellow that is nobler and more fire-enduring
Throw on one hundred dirhams of glass twenty dirhams of tin burned with orpiment (yellow zarnikh) only. Melt it and it will come exceptional.
Recipe 18, fol. 2b – Emerald-like Green glass
Take a good quality Kufic green glass, or if possible a clear Pharaonic glass. Pulverize it and sieve it through a small mesh sieve, or through a silk cloth. Take a dish (of clay or porcelain) and put in it two dirhams of rusakhtaj (copper scales) and one dirham of green tutia (zinc oxide), pulverise both and mix them. Take from the pulverized glass 120 dirhams and mix well the whole together. Take a cup of Damascus pottery < and put the mixture in it>.
Take from good red natrun two parts and from al-qali (alkali) one part and with a total weight equal to that of the glass, namely 120 dirhams, and put them in a glass vessel. Pour water and submerge these under four fingers of water. Stir slowly until the materials are dissolved. Leave the solution to settle and becomes clear like tears. Take gently some of the solution and irrigate with it the glass mixture that you intend to tint. Then introduce the glass with its ingredients into the glass-makers furnace and melt them. Take precautions against dust and smoke at the finishing and it will come out an emerald equal to the real one.
The secret of melting is to choose a good and pure Damascus earthenware cup. Put in it the pulverized glass with its pigments already mixed. The pulverised glass mixture will fill two thirds of the cup. Then irrigate it with the al-qali (alkali) and the natrun solution. If you desire to make it like a paste, then irrigate it daily and put it on a gentle fire until you consume the whole solution. When it becomes rather dry then introduce it into the furnace while it contains some humidity and set on the fire until it is melted. To test if it has melted introduce an iron rod and dip it in the cup. A small sample will show at its end. When it cools and if you do not see in the sample any cloudiness and if it is clear and the green colour is even then the melting is complete, otherwise you will increase the fire until the sample comes out as described. When this is done make out of the melted glass whatever you need. The firing of the furnace will take two days and one night.
Recipe 19, fol. 3a – Producing abu qalmun with unique iridescent colours
Take marcasite, magnesia, hematite (sadhanj), iron saffron (za’faran al hadid), Malachite (dahnaj), tutia, iron scales, and dross of brass (barani) in equal parts. Pound them and sieve them, then pulverize them with the vinegar of aged wine which contains fifteen dirhams from each of sieved borax and sieved alkali. Dry the pigments and throw ten dirhams of them on each one hundred dirhams of Damascus glass. The pulverized glass with pigments should be put in a luted earthenware pot and placed in a glass-makers furnace. Light a very strong fire and you will obtain abu qalmun which keeps changing colours.
Recipe 21, fol. 3b – White like ivory
You will pound glass into a very fine powder as kuhl. Take ten parts of talc extract (talq mahloub) for every one hundred parts of glass and pulverize it with the glass so that they are mixed together. Put the mixture in a Damascus earthenware pot (qidr shamiyyah). Place the pot in the grand furnace (atun a’zam), for two days and two nights. Withdraw a sample, and if it looks un-dispersed continue the fire until noon and shut the door of the furnace to prevent wind from entering. Take it out when it has cooled and you will find it as we have described, if God wills.
Recipe 33, fol. 4b - Semi transparent adrak [x] of indigo (nilaji ), green and red colours
Take one part of dragon’s blood and one part of iron saffron (za’faran al-hadid), add to each uqiyya [xi] of them two dirhams of good green copperas (qalqant) and two dirhams of iron saffron (za’faran al-hadid) that falls from under the hammer and one dirham of malachite (dahnaj), three dirhams of litharge (martak) and two dirhams of pure gold calamine (iqlimiya). Pulverize all in sharp wine vinegar until the whole are mixed together. Roast the mixture in a luted mug with a handle (kuz)) with a closed top in a tannur in which it is heated for one day and one night. Pulverize with vinegar one day and one night until it is dry. Then return it for roasting. Repeat this until its redness becomes intense. It reaches this condition after three roastings. Take from this three dirhams and from hematite (sadhanj) one dirham and pulverize well. Throw from this one dirham on one ratl [xii] of good Pharaonic glass which can be better if it is old. Melt and stir until the drug (pigments) is thoroughly mixed. Keep the fire until the sample of the iron rod comes out semi transparent red.
If you desire the redness intensity of the glass to be like gold, place the earthenware pot on a deck (dukkan) in a tannur half full of fire. The tannur will be the same size as the pot and it will be one span (shibr) [xiii] high above its top. There will be one hole cut in the tannur opposite the pot for fuel and another hole opposite the top of the pot from behind the tannur, and it will be lutes with clay or bricks. The two holes at the two sides of the pot will be to monitor the firing and will be for smoke and for kindling the fire. Close the hole at the back of the tannur and kindle the fire using either reeds (qasab) or wood, which is better, until mid-day. If you started early in the day keep watching the glass. If it turns like water take the bundle of drug and overturn it over the molten glass and stir by an iron rod shaped like a hook extending from the top of the pot to your hand. Continue stirring intensely until you know that the drug and the glass are mixed thoroughly. Take a <sample> at the end of the iron rod, and if you see in it two different colours continue feeding the fire with fuel, and if you see it evenly mixed continue with little fuel until you realize that it reached its end and became like water, then stop the fuel.
The deck will be one span higher than the bottom of the tannur and its diameter will be the same as that of the pot. You will get a beautiful indigo coloured adrak from which you will make whatever you desire, if God wills.
Recipe 35, fol. 5b – To make white and red enamel (mina)
Take one part of pulverized white pebbles (hasa), one part of red lead (sirinj), and one part of natrun. Combine and cook and it will come out white. If you want the enamel red, you will take one part of the filings of steel and imbibe it with dissolved sal-ammoniac. Leave it in a damp place for several days and then take it out and you will find it a disc as hard as stone. Pulverize it with wine vinegar on a flat stone mortar (sallaya). Take magnesia and treat it as you have done with iron except for the putrefaction (ta’fin). Take one part from the magnesia and one part from the iron and pulverize them all and put them in a bottle (qarura), luted very well, and place it in a brick-making furnace. Take it out when it flows. Then return it to the brick furnace two or three times. This serves as an elixir. Take now from the white enamel (mina) whatever you want and throw on each one hundred dirhams of mina two dirhams from the elixir and it will come out in the colour of the pomegranates grains (habb al-rumman).
Recipe 38, fol. 6a – Making jewel (jawhar )
Take from rock crystal (maha) or from Damascus glass one ratl. Throw on it five dirhams of hematite (sadhanj), two dirhams and a half rusakht (copper scales), two dirhams of good magnesia and one and a half dirhams of tincar. If you like its colour tinted yellow and red introduce to it good quality iron saffron (za’faran al-hadid). If you do not want it yellowish but you want it of the bijadhi [xiv] colour then do not introduce iron saffron (za’faran al-hadid) but keep it as we have described. Put it in a mug with a handle (kuz) luted from the inside with the clay of Upper Egypt (ṭin Ṣa’idi) to prevent it from sticking. Put on the head of the mug with a handle (kuz) a rag with a hole in it. Place the mug with a handle (kuz) in a self-blowing furnace (nafikh nafsihi) [xv] and put a large quantity of charcoal. When you know that it has melted, insert in the hole an iron rod and if the water on the iron rod is clear then it has reached its end and then lif ṭin t it from the fire and cool it. Break the mug with a handle (kuz) and you will obtain one jewel (jawhara) from which you can make whatever you wish.
Recipe 44, fol. 6b –Glass with blue lazaward colour
Take two parts of red zarnikh (realgar) and yellow zarnikh (orpiment), one quarter part of vitriol (zaj) kirmani, and the same from the pure Egyptian sand from which glass is made. Pound each alone and sieve. Irrigate with vinegar after you mix them together. Put the drugs in a very well luted earthenware vessel (fukhkhara), keeping the drugs humid with the vinegar in a similar consistency as that of the sawiq [xvi]. Close the fukhkhara with a rag and lute it. Fill the tannur with wood and dung (sarjin) until the height of one dhira’ (cubit) [xvii]. Bury the fukhkhara in it. Cover the head of the tannur and lute it. Take out the mug with a handle (kuz) the next day and take out the (glass) from the mug with a handle (kuz) and you will find it as you like, if God wills.
Recipe 46, fol. 7b – Making ruby (yaqut ahmar) without equal
Take one hundred dirhams of cornelian stone (‘aqiq), two hundred dirhams of rock crystal (billaur) and twenty five dirhams of magnesia. Heat each one alone and throw it in sour vinegar. Pound and cook with sour vinegar to which al-qali (alkali) has been added. Cook very well for half a day until it becomes dry and roasted. Throw it in cold water and wash it in water and salt until its water and jawhar become clear. Put it in a luted pot (qidr) with one hundred dirhams of natrun, twenty five dirhams of al-qali (alkali) salt, forty dirhams of Armenian borax and ten dirhams of coarse salt (milh jarish). Light up fire on it in the furnace two days and two nights or one day and one night. If it melts take it out when it cools and throw on it calamine (iqlimia). Take out the melted ingot (nuqra) and pulverize it with sixty dirhams of red lead (isrinj), five dirhams of cinnabar (zanjufr), two dirhams of realgar (red zarnikh) pulverised in vinegar, five dirhams of magnesia, five dirhams of copper scales (rosakht),and ten dirhams of pulverised blood stone which is sadhan. Mix and put in a luted pot (qidr) and place in a furnace. Blow on it continuously until it melts and becomes mature. The sign of its maturity is that you put out one carat (qirat) [xviii] of it on a clear surface until it cools. If you see it clear red with plenty of water that is the water of ruby (yaqut) then it has matured. If it has turbidity then blow on it until it matures.
Recipe 47, fol. 8a – If you want it clear green
Pulverize with it after you take it out from the furnace (atun), sixty dirhams of cuprum acetum (zinjar), five dirhams of copper scales (rosakht), five dirhams magnesia, two dirhams red lead (isrinj) and five dirhams malachite (dahnaj).
Recipe 48, fol. 8a – If you want it violet (banafsaji)
Pulverize with it twenty five dirhams of cuprum acetum (zinjar), five dirhams of hematite (sadhanj), ten dirhams of red lead (isrinj), ten dirhams of orpiment (yellow zarnikh) pulverized with egg yolk, five dirhams of copper scales (rosakhtaj) and five of magnesia. This will come out violet ruby (yaqut).
Recipe 49, fol. 8a – Yellow Ruby (yaqut )
Pulverize with it thirty dirhams of orpiment (yellow zarnikh) pulverized with eggs’s yolk and vinegar, ten dirhams of red lead (isrinj), three dirhams of copper scales (rosakht), three dirhams of magnesia, two dirhams murdasanj which is litharge (martak) and five cobalt blue (lazaward). This will come out yellow ruby (yaqut).
Recipe 50, fol. 8a – If you want it tawusi (peacock cloured) which is the clear and strange colour
Throw with it thirty dirhams of cuprum acetum (zinjar), five dirhams of hematite (sadhanj), five dirhams of red lead (isrinj), three dirhams of malachite (dahnaj), five dirhams of orpiment (yellow zarnikh) pulverized with eggs’s yolk, one dirham of rusakhtaj (copper scales) and two dirhams of magnesia. This will come out a tawusi if God wills.
Arabic – English Glossary of Materials
[i] The complete article will be in four parts. Part One will be followed by Part Two on lustre painting of glass, Part Three on Gemstones and Pearls and Part Four is the commentary and discussion.
[ii] This is according to the Cairo edition, and it is number 35 in the edition of Gustav Flügel. Leipzig, 1871–2;
[iii] Alexandria Library, MS Alexandria Municipality 5204, fol. 91a.
The author wishes to acknowledge his gratefulness to Prof. Youssef Ziedan, Director of the Manuscript Centre, Alexandria Library, for having supplied the author with a copy of Kitab al-khawass al-kabir on CD. This copy proved to be superior to that of the BL in several aspects.
[iv] Alexandria Library, MS Alexandria Municipality 5204,fol. 93b; Br. Museum, MS OR 4041, folio 55b
[v] Alexandria Library, MS Alexandria Municipality 5204, fol.151a.
[vi] The text in Br. Mus. Add 7722, treatise number 11, purported to be part of K. al-durra al-maknuna, is on theoretical alchemy and is unrelated to technical chemistry.
[vii] Catalogue des Manscrits Arabes, index no. 6836-7214, compiled by Yvette Sauvan et al.
[viii] Mainly copper oxide
[ix] One dirham is about 3.12 grams.
Al Biruni in al-Jamahir fi ma’rifat
al-jawahir. In the chapter on Adhrak he
is a noble stone,
among those that are from
the moulded stones of the Alexandrians.
It is ancient and
beautiful, and pleasing, and in delicacy equals
[xi] One uqiyya is about 37.5 grams.
[xii] One ratl is about 450 grams.
[xiii] The shibr is the span of the hand, from the thumb to the little finger. One shibr equals 7 inches, approximately 17.78 centimeters.
[xiv] According to al-Biruni op. cit., bijadhi is one of hyacinth-like stones. He says that Al-Kindi and Nasr hold the ruby variety of it as comparable to gold. Bijadhi with its rubicundity has a glitter of violet. (Arabic edition p. 88)
[xv] It is a tannur supported at the bottom on three legs. It has perforated walls and bottom and is provided with a deck made of clay on which fire is made. The drug is put in a luted mug with a handle (kuz) and the tannur is placed in a location in which wind is blowing (Mafatih al-‘ulum).
نافخ نفسه: تنور يكون له أسفل على ثلاث قوائم مثقب الحيطان والقرار وله دكان من طين يوقد ويوضع عليه الدواء في كوز مطين في موضع تصفقه الريح.
[xvi] A food made of pounded wheat and barley. السويق طعام مدقوق بالقمح والشعير
[xvii] In Abbasid times, a dhira’ (cubit) measured only some 48.25 cm.
[xviii] Qirat is about one carat. A qirat is about 198 milligrams, and a carat is 200 milligrams.