Research Unit5 Islamic History and Culture

Some Iconographical Aspects of Fantastic Creatures in Islamic Art


Symposium held November 8, 1997

The University of Tokyo, Faculty of Letters Annexe




Toh SUGIMURA (Ryukoku University)


Minako YAMANLAR-MIZUNO (The University of East Asia)

"Lung:Chinese Dragons in Seljuk and Il-Khanid Art"

Masaru HORIUCHI (Chukyo University)

"Images of the Camel"

Hiroshi MURANO (Tokai University)

"Studies on Demon Figures: Some Oriental Peculiarities of Demons in the Saray Album"

Kazue KOBAYASHI (Waseda University)

"Iconography of the Karkaddan"

Tomoko MASUYA (National Museum of Ethnology)

"Feng-Huang (Phoenixes) in Islamic Art"


The symposium, featuring the above six speakers, was chaired by Minako Yamanlar-Mizuno, and was attended by twenty-eight participants.

Horiuchi and Kobayashi discussed the transformation of actual animals and their qualities into manifestations of symbolic meaning. Masuya and Mizuno investigated how fantastic creatures of non-Islamic origins, such as phoenixes and dragons, appeared in Islamic lore and took on iconographical significance. Murano investigated the presence of similar demon figures in Central Asia, China and Japan.

Primarily discussed during the symposium were the overwhelming similarities seen in manifestations of fantastic creatures of different cultures, times and geographical locations. The implications were addressed that this could not be purely coincidental. Also examined were the vast variations seen in the iconography of fantastical creatures within Islamic lore according to era and government.


Tracing the historical path and development of fantastic creatures requires further in-depth studies of the creatures and their manifestations. And in order to examine iconographical changes, we must first be able to achieve a better understanding of the Islamic world through its history and ethnic diversity. The Sarai Album in the Topkapi Museum (H.2152, 2153,2154, 2160) serves as a helpful resource to this end.

The Sarai Album has been studied by various Turkish, European and American scholars, but with respects to its connections to Oriental art, research has been limited to that of Toh Sugimura and a few others. This area requires more emphasis. We thus wish to further this investigation in a cooperative research project with the Topkapi Museum Director Filiz Cagman and other Turkish researchers.