These watercolours come from a bound manuscript written by a rammal — or soothsayer — in Isfahan, Iran. According to Ali Karjoo-Ravary, the paintings were added one or two decades after the composition of the text — a treatise on spells and demons, “among other creatures, that are associated with each sign of the zodiac.” The pictures, Karjoo-Ravary continues:
Not all of the 56 painted illustrations in the manuscript depict demonic beings. Amongst the horned and fork-tongued we also find the archangels Jibrāʾīl (Gabriel) and Mikāʾīl (Michael), as well as the animals — lion, lamb, crab, fish, scorpion — associated with the zodiac. But most of the figures shown are far from ordinary or angelic. A blue man with claws, four horns, and a projecting red tongue is no less frightening for the fact that he’s wearing a candy-striped loincloth. In another image we see a moustachioed goat man with tuber-nose and polka dot skin maniacally concocting a less-than-appetising dish. One recurring (and worrying) theme is demons visiting sleepers in their beds, scenes involving such pleasant activities as tooth-pulling, eye-gouging, and — in one of the most engrossing illustrations — a bout of foot-licking (performed by a reptilian feline with a shark-toothed tail).
The wonderful images draw on Near Eastern demonological traditions that stretch back millennia — to the days when the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud asserted it was a blessing demons were invisible, since, “if the eye would be granted permission to see, no creature would be able to stand in the face of the demons that surround it.”