Hadith Bayad wa Riyad Manuscript

Elena López Cuenca

The purpose of this work is to account for the subject matter of the Hadith Bayad manuscript in the Vatican Library (Arab. 368) . Special attention will be paid to the elements that were borrowed from the Mesopotamian school as well as the indigenous and local character of the manuscript. There are doubts about the date and place of origin of this manuscript.

Most scholars, however, agree that it is hispano-moresque . Richard Ettinghausen also supports the idea of its Spanish source owing to the sophistication of the miniatures. The manuscript was classified as Almohad in the exhibition “al Andalus” that was held in Granada and Washington in 1992. This assertion is based on the similarity of the script, both in layout and colour, with two manuscripts from al-Andalus , however none of them are illustrated.

Oleg Grabar and Richard Ettinghausen attribute it with a  Spanish origin because of the style of the architecture that is depicted in the miniatures. There are also different opinions regarding the date of the manuscript. The Italian scholars Levi della Vida and Ugo Monneret de Villard date it from the fourteenth century, but more recent studies carried out by O.Grabar and R. Ettinghausen put its date at 1200; the same as the classification in al- Andalus, from the early thirteenth century. The manuscript is extensively illustrated; fourteen of its miniatures have survived.

In spite of having the beginning and end missing, not much of the story seems to be lost. For the present study eight illustrations have been available. According to Ugo Monneret de Villard the manuscript probably arrived with other Arab manuscripts at the Vatican Library after 1535, as a consequence of the sacking of Tunis in 1535. An unfortunate restoration at the end of the seventeenth century damaged even more of the illustrations, for example the illustration in folio twenty nine reverse was completely covered with an inferior metal. The current threat to the illustrations however, is humidity.

The story

No other copies of the manuscript have been found, although the title The Account of Bayad and Riyad occurs in an Istanbul manuscript containing stories on the order of the Arabian Nights. The narrative takes place in Northern Mesopotamia.

The hero, Bayad, is a young merchant who falls in love with a handmaiden of a noble lady, who is the daughter of a chamberlain named Riyad. There are many complications in the story because the chamberlain is also interested in Riyad. There is also the figure of a go-between who became adviser to Bayad. She plays an important role in the development and action of the story, exchanging messages, letters, arranging dates and so on.

All this is the standard paraphernalia of courtly love. Owing to the inaccessibility of other relevant documentary material about the story,  the only sources to study the relationship between the text and the illustrations are the information available in al-Andalus  and the translation of the paragraphs which accompany the illustrations.

  1. Folio 10r. The go-between arranges for the two lovers to meet at a majlis ghima’ (get together) organized by the Lady of the palace, the daughter of al-Hajib; the lovers sing and play the lute, declaring their passion.
  2. Folio 14r. This upsets the Lady of the Palace who is apprehensive between the lovers that her father will find out about Bayad and Riyad. She orders that Riyad be kept in a separate house, where she is left alone to cry and pine. The name of Riyad is mentioned in the text twice. Two courtiers talk about the fate of the couple. Riyad listens with great attention. The rabbit, as a symbol of longevity, might anticipate the happy end of the story. In spite of the separation love will remain.
  3. Folio 15r. The old lady reprimands the love sick Bayad
  4. Folio 17r. Letters are exchanged
  5. Folio 19r. Meanwhile, Bayad is seen wandering, talking to himself, and fainting. The text refers to the river Nahar al-Therthar whose water irrigates many orchards included the one in which the scene is set.
  6. Folio 26v. The old woman arranges a reconciliation between Riyad and the Lady of the Palace who finally decides to bring Bayad and Riyad together, whatever the consequences. The text describes the way Riyad embellishes herself, she combs her hair, and wears her finest garments for her meeting with the lady of the palace. In the text the words ‘good news’ are also mentioned.

The story has a happy ending in which Bayad and Riyad can see each other again thanks to the tricks of the old woman. The illustrations are a fairly accurate representation of the text. An open question is how popular the favorite Iraqi texts were in Spain (ej. The Maqamat, Kalila wa Dimma, the Dioscorides or the Automata).

The hero, Bayad, is a young merchant who falls in love with a handmaiden of a noble lady, who is the daughter of a chamberlain named Riyad. There are many complications in the story because the chamberlain is also interested in Riyad. There is also the figure of a go-between who became adviser to Bayad. She plays an important role in the development and action of the story, exchanging messages, letters, arranging dates and so on.

Since this manuscript is the only reproduction of the text that has survived, there is not enough evidence to tell whether the al-Andalus manuscript had copied other manuscripts from the east, or the artistic influences arrived in al-Andalus by other means such as pottery or textiles.  This could also explain the depiction of Samarra figure types while the rest of the features belong to the Baghdad school of painting.

The illustrations

The illustrations will be analysed according to two different approaches; firstly the pictorical elements that have their origin in Mesopotamia, in the Samarra school of painting and the Baghdad school of painting. Secondly, the regional and local features in the illustrations.

2.1 Mesopotamian features in the manuscript Ugo Monneret de Villard points out the similarities of the manuscript with Seljuq art in contrast with al-Gazirah art from Mawsil. An important difference in technique is the use of plain coloured paper for the background in the school of Baghdad, whereas in Gazirah art the background is painted in pale pink and occasionally blue. Our manuscript has plain colour in the background, the same as other manuscripts from the same period in the Baghdad school, eg. the Maqâmât of al-Harîrî in the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris

2.1.1 The treatment of space The treatment of space is the same as in the Baghdad school. The figures are depicted in one plane. They stand on the ground which is outlined by a green line of grass The same green line is outlined at the bottom of the folio in both Maqamat Hariri from the Biblioteque National and the Hariri in the Oriental Institute Academy of Science Leningrad. In the second manuscript the depiction of grass is more akin to the example we are analysing. The grass is formed with vertical lines and it appears even in the desert scenes. This indicates that it was a convention for the ground. There is a lack of perspective, although some devices have been added to create depth; when there is a group, the figures overlap in order to create different planes. This can be illustrated with the following examples:

  1. In folio 26v there are three false planes; the woman in the first plane stands on the grass, the woman who is kneeling on an architectural frame with one of her arms sunken into the grass in the second, and the tree behind her in the third.
  2. In folio 19r, there are again different planes ; the water wheel in the first plane, and the figure of Biyad lying on the ground forming the second. The ‘scorzo’ of his hand and the lace from the turban create a spatial feeling In folio fourteen reverse there is an attempt to create perspective. There are two planes depicted in this illustration, the upper part of the architecture, and the lower part where the stairs and the water basin are. Ugo Monneret de Villard thinks that this illustration is the only experiment to create a feeling of perspective with architecture in two planes. The position of the hands of the figures on the right below the arcade also contribute to creating a feeling of space. As in the Maqâmât, architectural features are used to set the scene (indoors, outdoors and the garden)

U.Monneret studies the way that the inside of buildings are represented; he concludes that the painter has taken the end elevations of buildings and turned them on their axes until they became one plane with their front elevations on the folio. The interior therefore is shown in orthogonal projection . This is the same convention for interior spaces as has been used by the Mesopotamian artists. The figures are arranged in the same plane in most illustrations; accordingly isocephalic figures are especially remarkable when a large group is depicted; folio 10 r (Monneret de Villard), folio 10r.(R. Ettinghausen, 1977, p. 129). This has been classified by R. Ettinghausen as part of the Perso-Iraqi tradition.

2.1.2 Figure types Figures It is particularly noteworthy that in this manuscript the old Samarra style has survived long after it has apparently died out in the eastern Mediterranean what it is typical of the archaic emphasis of Muslim Spanish art and culture. The human faces are represented in three-quarter view, the bodies in frontal view, and the feet in profile. This archetype does not fit all the figures but it certainly does in most of them, although the refinement of the depiction is greater than in Samarra. This may be explained by the medium alone, manuscript painting instead of pottery. It is especially obvious in the depiction of faces (fig. 5).

Richard Ettinghausen describes the Samarran ideal of female beauty, which I believe fits the ladies in our manuscript  perfectly. “The women have very large heads and small feet. Their heavy-set moon-shaped faces are expressionless and show large eyes, slightly crooked noses, and full cheeks and chins. The rich coiffure has scalloped curls across the forehead, spiraled curls in front of the ears, and heavy braids. The bodies are heavy, even clumsy, but this heaviness like all the other anatomical features expresses the Arabic and early Persian ideal of female beauty”.

The convention for the folds also have their origin in the Samarran style. An illustrative example is the painting of the figures of the “two dancers”. The style was continued in the frescoes in the Capella Palatina in Palermo and in many examples in Fatimid painting which could be the source for the figure type in this manuscript (see fig 1-2). According to Ettinghausen the Perso-Iraqi style was the predominant one in Fatimid Egypt. Close examination of the garments does not reveal any indication of al-Andalus textile designs. The figures wear plain robes in dark green, orange, pink and grey-blue.

The range of colours that has been used (pink, dark green, dark grey blue, gold, ivory, light brown and orange) can be found in paintings in Syria, the forty-second Maqâmât 6094 in the Biblioteque National and the Schefer Maqâmât Hariri from Iraq. However in the Maqamat, figures wear patterned robes very often. It is worth noting the absence of red, light blue and green.

2.1.3. Expression The treatment of emotion differs in this manuscript to the more popular style represented by the paintings of the great Maqâmât masters. In spite of the deeply disturbed emotions caused by love every action and every expression was strictly regulated by convention, ie. self contained emotion. This is in sharp contrast to the rough, jerky movements of the Maqâmât; even the sounds evoked by the two sets of illustrations, the lovers’ melancholy songs and their voices are different to the tumultuous street noises suggested in the Maqâmât.

Since the figures have motionless faces and staring eyes which are the convention in Samarra paintings, emotion and action are shown by gestures and poses. An example of this is the illustration in folio 15r ( fig.11) Bayad is shown sitting down with crossed hands on his lap and leaning forward. The posture indicates that he is paying great attention to the pieces of advice which are given by the old woman. Her eloquent speech is suggested by the nervous movement of her hands and feet that is portraited in silhouette what recalls the shadow theater. There are broken folds around her left foot. She also has her mouth open.

  1. In folio 17 r. the action of receiving the letter is shown by the posture of Bayad who is setted outside the palace where his love is. This increase the drama of the scene. The lady is depicted leaning forward Bayad. Consequently, the delivery action is reinforced. The lady also covers her mouth with the veil which is a convention for love affairs.
  2. In folio 23r. Bayad’s despair is perceptible because of the position of his hands and eyes. Eye contact is made with the lady who delivers the message. The women’s eyes are focussed on Bayad. One of the ladies has her hand on Bayad’s shoulder, showing sympathy and calming him down. The other lady points at him as if she was whispering something in his ear.

2.1.4. Nature Another aspect that has been identified by U. Monneret de Villard as common feature of the manuscripts from Baghdad is the representation of nature. A conventional depiction of nature was adopted in opposition to the relative naturalism of the Byzantine and Roman styles. There are two types of trees depicted; cypress that according to Proffesor Hillenbrad is a metaphor for love since is always green and a large tree with interlaced branches and a few fruits. The same conventions are applied as in the Dioscorides manuscripts . In those there are no indications of the plant’s habitat, whereas in this manuscript the selection of trees is adequate to suggest the idea of the “hortus”.

2.2 Local features in the manuscript According to O. Grabar and R. Ettinghausen Bayad wa Riyad was first identified as Spanish because of the architecture depicted in its miniatures. This is the most remarkable feature that has its roots in al-Andalus. The script is equally unmistakable in a loopy shape as Professor Hillenbrand has pointed out. A closer look at the illustrations permits one to identify other elements which are part of the culture and art of al-Andalus. These will be studied in the following paragraph.

2.2.1. Architecture The action in the Bayad and Riyad takes place in an aristocratic and refined atmosphere that is recreated in the setting of the story; the palace, the garden, clothing and jeweller. This is part of the treatment of love in the Arab world. The hero belongs to the well-to-do so that he could enter the palaces of the nobles. The general aspect of the main building can be identified as “alcazar”. It has the appearance of a fortress from the outside, with its heavy walls broken and lightened only by the elegance of the square towers with their minarets and peaked roofs.

There are not many standing examples of this kind of architecture, but the best known is certain to be the Almohad Alcazar in Seville. However, Pedro el Cruel built his mudejar palace on the same site, and it is now difficult to have an idea of its original appearance. The idea of miradors is also a common feature in the “alcazabas”, the Alcazaba in Málaga and Granada give a good example of this. I believe that the variety of arches depicted could also illustrate the richness of architectural elements in al-Andalus. According to Professor Hillenbrand, variation in arch profiles was a characteristic of Spanish Muslim architecture. Six out of the eight illustrations studied have a depiction of architecture with arches which are different either in their shape or in their arrangement:

  1. In folio 9r there is a round arch enframed in alfiz. In folio 10r there is a double arch and underneath it is possible to distinguish the profile of a half trilobed arch, on the other side an arcade of double arches is arranged on two floors.
  2. In folio 17r a pair of the typical Cordoban horseshoe arches is depicted.
  3. In folio 19r a pair of horseshoe arches is represented. The keystone of the arch has a lancet shape. On one side a rather unusual three-lobed arch is depicted. This has its equivalent not only in the Cistercian monastery of Santa María la Real de Huelgas en Burgos, but also in the Kutubiya mosque in Marrakesh.
  4. In the garden in folio 14r. a more classical round arch has been chosen. It is supported by columns with acanthus leaves on the capital.
  5. For the interior in folio 23r a tripartite arch is depicted. The decoration on the arch recalls the serpentiforme  decorative motif which was first seen under the rule of the almohade dynasty.

Professor Hillenbrand, rises the question of the intention in depicting such varied arch forms and comments on this piece of work if it might carry some kind of meaning or hierarchy. The same variety can be seen in the decorative motifs chosen for the window grilles. The typical almohade pattern of lozenges is the main design, from which another two designs are derived by drawing perpendicular lines and horizontal lines, cross patterns  and decorated lozenges. The cross decorative patterns have also been found in the garment of one of the ladies represented in the silk in the Cooper Museum. (Fig 4).

Professor Hillenbrad point out in his comment to this essay that the limited space available and the book style presumably favoured this kind of simple patterns In the same silk the ladies are seated on a platform that has its ends cut in a half-arch, a form similar to the platform depicted in folio 26v. The decorative motifs on the platform have different sources. The design of the palmettes has been identified by G. Marçais as a decorative floral motif in the mosque of Cordoba (fig. 17). I believe the geometric interlace is a common design used to frame the titles of suras in the Qur’an in the Almohad period.

2.2.2. Relationship with textiles The affinity of the manuscript with a group of textiles has led scholars to believe that the manuscript should be attributed to a centre where weaving was important. R. Ettinghausen and O. Grabar have studied this connection with the illustrations; “In one, an old lady in profile holding up a bottle to pour is nearly identical to one of the drinking ladies, and any of the young handmaidens with goblets could have served as a model for the other. The similarities are underscored by the shape of the platforms in miniature and textile, the concentric arrangements of the folds on the sleeves in both, and even the cross patterns that decorate garments on the textile and window grilles in the miniature”.

I believe there is an intentional purpose to avoid colours that stand out, in contrast to other manuscripts in Baghdad where red, light blue or light green are largely represented. The range of colours that have been chosen contributes to the balance the composition. The colours are typical of the palette of Spanish textiles, especially the range of oranges, dark greens and pinks which are also the main colours in this manuscript. For this reason, I believe the palette of colours that have been selected by the artist might have its origin in either textiles or other unknown Hispano manuscripts. However, I cannot give any explanation for the lack of red, perhaps it might be attributed to the price of the pigment.

2.2.3 Cultural elements The setting for the story is a garden since those play an important part in the culture of al-Andalus. They were an expression of wealth since they required costly irrigation . The scenes inside the chamberlain palace are set in the indoor garden in which some local features can be distinguished. Firstly, there is a garden between two pavilions. Secondly, there is a depiction of an “hortus” with grass and fruit trees which was characteristic of gardens in al-Andalus. . The illustration in folio fourteen reverse also depicts architectural features in a garden in which parallels can be found. The use of pavilions in gardens was common in al-Andalus.

Documentary (see note 27) and archaeological evidence can be given. The archaeological work carried out in the twelfth century garden in the alcazar in Seville gives an insight into the scheme of hispano-arab gardens. The quadripartite plan creates four basins where the plants lay. The junction of the axis is marked by a pool. There are normally pavilions on both sides of the garden (fig. 18) a good example of this type is the Generalife. What are depicted in the illustration, therefore are the arches at the junction of the crucero garden. The plants are laid in the basins, and additionally the plant represented in the right hand side of the garden could be a climbing vine that reaches the roof of the pavilion to create shade (see note 27).

Other distinctive elements are the two animal heads by the pool which serve as a fountain. They are spouting water from their mouths into the pool. The animals’ heads are remarkably similar to the figure of a bronze stag from Cordoba. Fountains were an important part of the aesthetic program of the Islamic palace where the major examples of animal sculpture are to be found, especially in western Islam. Finally, I would like to illustrate why gardens and music might have been chosen to express the love of Bayad wa Riyad through the impressions of a traveling Arab writer, Ahmad-al-Yamani: “In the year 407 of the Hijra (1016-1017) I happened to be in Málaga, when I fell sick for some considerable time, and found myself compelled to remain indoors. Two companions who were living with me provided me with food. Now it so happened that as night fell my sleeplessness would increase, while in the neighborhood, the strains of lutes, drums and harps intermingled with singing would sound all around me, which annoyed me and increased my sleeplessness and my suffering. Finally my irritability and my distaste for all those voices grew to such pitch that I searched for accommodation where I would not be forced to hear any of them. It proved quite impossible to find such accommodation, owing to the widespread habit of the people of this region of spending the nights singing and playing music.”…

“Finally, I could no longer remain where I was, and got  up. Both my friends were asleep. I opened the door and followed the voice, which sounded near. From an aisle of my house, I discovered a spacious dwelling with a garden at the center of it. A gathering of some twenty men was assembled here, seated in rows, with drinks and fruit in their hands. By them stood slave-girls with lutes, tambourines, flutes and other instruments, but none of them were playing. The slave girl, whom I had heard, sat some way apart with the lute in her  lap. All present were gazing at her as she sang and played.”

Outside the palace an agricultural setting is suggested by the depiction of water and the water wheel. According to Thomas Glick both elements, the irrigation system and the water wheel, are the two main technical inventions in the economy and the social organization of al-Andalus. The Syrian economic model was brought by the Ummayad dynasty. This caused the transformation of the landscape according to Syrian patterns. In Córdoba al-Shaqundi described five thousand water wheels in the Guadalquivir.

To give evidence the importance of agriculture in al-Andalus T. Glick highlights the flowering of agricultural literature during the eleventh and twelfth centuries


In short the two major sources for the manuscript are the school of Baghdad and Samarra in the east and local features which are extensible represented. The technical aspects of the manuscript have their roots in the school of Baghdad such as the treatment of the space, depiction of architecture, conventions for depiction of nature, plain background among others.

I believe, it can be safe to assume that the major school of painting at that time was ahead in the innovation of new techniques. The affinities with the current empire at that time. The presence of the Samarra style in human types can be explained on account of the survival of the human types in the Fatimid minor arts, particularly textiles and pottery but also in terms of imports directly form Iraq.

It has been well studied the influence of the Fatimid art in the western parts of the Islamic world. This has been particularly exemplified in the luster pottery in al-Andalus and silks. It will therefore reinforce the Spanish origin of the manuscript.

Despite the lack of western manuscripts the refinement of the illustrations suggests a deeply rooted tradition of painting. It might be possible to drawn the conclusion the artist copied some settings originated in the Caliphate school of painting or  even that he copied the buildings around him.

The landscape In Hadith Bayad wa Riyad is much more fully realized and contextualized than in Mesopotamian painting. This gives an idea of the importance of Gardens in Islamic Spain. There were space for recreation and aesthetic pleasure, surrounded by plants and pavilions. The illustrations offer a good picture of these aspects of the life in al-Andalus. The hortus transformed the landscape of al- Andalus, new spices were introduced to recreate the landscape of Siria, palm trees from the dessert. Water wheels have their origin in the east and had been used in Spain since Roman times. However the Arabs intensified their use. They are the main pillar of the irrigation systems that were so much developed during the Islamic rule in Spain.

There is enough evidence to believe that wealthy classes; monarchs, merchants and officials in al-Andalus, had a particularly passion for books as al Hakan’s library proves. The decorative motifs of the manuscript -architectural elements, the range of colours used- and their relationship with textiles might locate the origin of the manuscript in an important textile centre.

The depiction of figures might now think of the influence of the shadow theater, there is as well a strong vein of satire; the use of extra large script to provide captions, and the rapid rate of illustration. The later device suggest again that there was ample experience of book painting in al- Andalus that can be supported as well by the position of the paintings on the page and the use of scene dividers and framers.


  • Ars hispaniae, Historia Universal del arte hispánico, V.XVIII Jesus Domínguez Bordona, “Los orígenes y el arte Mozárabe” “Miniatura hispanomusulmana e hispanohebrea” Madrid 1962
  • Al- Andalus The art of Islamic Spain Washington 1992
  • T. Burckhardt, Moorish culture in Spain, London 1972
  • J. Dickie “The Hispano-Arab garden:its philosophy and function” The Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies,31 1968
  • R. Ettinghausen and O. Grabar, The art and architecture of Islam 650-1250, London 1987
  • R. Ettinghausen Arab Painting, Geneva 1977
  • R. Ettinghausen, Ars Islamica, 1942, v. 9 “Painting in the Fatimid period: a reconstruction” Fundación de cultura islámica, Jardines públicos y lugares de paseo, Centro Virtual Cervantes http://cvc.cervantes.es/actcult/jardin_andalusi/
  • T. Glick, Cristianos y musulmanes en la España medieval (711-1250), Madrid 1991 G.
  • Levi della Vida ,Elenco dei manoscriti arabi islamici della Biblioteca Vaticana (Studi e Testi, n. 67) Cittá del Vaticano, 1935, p. 39 G.
  • Marçais, Manuel d’art musulman, l’architecture Tunisie, Algerie, Maroc, Espagne, Sicile, Paris 1926
  • U. Monneret de Villard, “Un codice arabo espagnolo con miniature”,La bibliofilia Firenze 1942, XLIII, ottobre-nov-dicembre 1941
  • Sourder Thomine and Spuler, Die kunst des Islam, Berlin 1773

Commented by Professor Robert Hillenbrand