The 16th and early 17th centuries were the most fertile period of Turkish-Ottoman painting, with the reign of Murad III (1574-1595) being particularly prolific in beautiful works of art, such as this Matali’ al-saadet or Book of Felicity by Muhammad ibn Amir Hasan al-Su’udi.
This Book of Felicity – which the sultan himself, whose portrait appears on folio 7v, ordered to be translated from the original Arabic – features descriptions of the twelve signs of the zodiac accompanied by splendid miniatures; a series of paintings showing how human circumstances are influenced by the planets; astrological and astronomical tables; and an enigmatic treatise on fortune telling.
The last double-page illustration in the manuscript refers to a short treatise dealing with the mansions or stations of the Moon (manazil al-qamar). This is another astronomical subject that was taken up by astrologers and an iconography was developed at least as early as the 14th century to illustrate the text. The movement of the moon across the night sky and its different phases could be easily followed and standard reference points were provided by groups of stars marking its daily journey eastward. Medieval astronomers in the Islamic Near and Middle East relied on twenty-eight groups of stars for reference, which became known as Lunar mansions or resting-places of the Moon. The shift to an astrological meaning for these mansions was natural and both text and images probably developed at an early stage. The two facing pages include the general title in gold ink repeated in the cartouche at the top of each folio. The text and illustrations are organized in four vertical rows with seven mansions on each giving a total of twenty-eight. A narrow vertical cartouche that includes the name of the mansion in red ink is sandwiched between seven lines of text inside a square to its right and the illustration to its left. The figures depicted in the vignette, all set within a gold, broken-arch frame are sometimes difficult to interpret because the name of the mansion is self-explanatory only in several instances, often being based on passages in the text or an earlier iconography that is unclear to us. Without a doubt, the mansions of the moon are rarely depicted in Islamic astrological manuscripts therefore a consistent imagery may not have developed throughout the centuries.