No anatomical illustrations of the entire human body are preserved from the Islamic world before those which accompany the Persian treatise composed by Mansur ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Yusuf ibn Ilyas, who came from a Persian family of scholars and physicians working in the city of Shiraz. His illustrated treatise, often called Mansur’s Anatomy (Tashrih-i Mansur-i), was dedicated to the sultan Ziya' al-Din Pir Muhammad Bahadur, in all likelihood referring to Pir Muhammad ibn 'Umar ibn Timur, the ruler of the Persian province of Fars from 1394 to 1409 (797–811 H) and grandson of Timur, known to Europeans as Tamerlane.
The treatise consists of an introduction followed by five chapters on the five "systems" of the body: bones, nerves, muscles, veins, and arteries - each illustrated with a full-page diagram. The chapter on the skeleton was also illustrated with smaller diagrams of the cranial sutures and bones of the upper jaw with the positions of the teeth indicated. A concluding chapter on compound organs, such as the heart and brain, and on the formation of the foetus, was illustrated with a diagram showing a pregnant woman. The full-length illustrations (with the exception of the pregnant woman) have numerous labels in a mixture of Arabic and Persian. One of the two copies now at the National Library of Medicine is the earliest dated copy of Mansur ibn Ilyas's illustrated anatomy. It (MS P 18) was completed on 8 December 1488 (4 Muharram 894 H) by a scribe named Hasan ibn Ahmad working in Isfahan. Whether the scribe also executed the illustrations as well as copying the accompanying text is unknown. The second copy at NLM (MS P 19) is undated and unsigned, but the nature of the paper, ink, and script suggests that it was executed in the late 15th or very early 16th century, also in Iran.
Most of the illustrations that Mansur ibn Ilyas used to illustrate his treatise were not original with him. The origin of the anatomical series of full-length figures remains a puzzle, but it clearly predates the Persian treatise by Mansur ibn Ilyas written at the end of the 14th century. Historians have noted the similarity between the first five full-length illustrations and certain early Latin sets of anatomical diagrams. This similarity is particularly evident in the diagram of the skeleton which in both the Latin and Persian versions is viewed from behind, with the head hyperextended so that the face looks upward and with the palms of the hands facing towards the observer - a posture, some have noted, suggestive of a dissection table. All the figures are in a distinctive squatting posture. The earliest Latin version dates from the 12th century, yet the earliest Islamic version is represented by the NLM manuscript produced in 1488. We do not know in what form, nor by what means, these full-length anatomical diagrams of the five systems were available to Mansur ibn Ilyas. The sixth figure in the series of full-page illustrations, the pregnant woman, was possibly a contribution by Ibn Ilyas himself, who was particularly concerned in his treatise with Aristotelian and Galenic embryological theories and their interaction with the tradition of Prophetic medicine. It was constructed from the arterial figure, with the labels removed and superimposed with an oval gravid uterus having the foetus in a breech or transverse position. The accompanying text of Mansur ibn Ilyas's treatise, however, gives no evidence for or against the suggestion that the sixth figure was his invention, for in the text itself the figure of a pregnant woman is never mentioned. The only reference in Mansur ibn Ilyas's treatise to an illustration occurs in the chapter on the nervous system, where it is mentioned that pairs of nerves are to be designated by certain colours. Nowhere else in the treatise does Mansur ibn Ilyas even mention illustations accompanying his treatise.
Text by Emilie Savage-Smith, The Oriental Institute, University of Oxford.