Wood and Lacquer
Qajar, dated 1282 H/1865 CE
Materials and technique
Papier-mâché, painted and lacquered
length 26.8 cm
The visual arts flourished under Qajar patronage in the nineteenth century and lacquer painting was a particular speciality. The scribe’s humble pen box was often transformed into a work of beauty and this box is no exception: it is highly decorated with images of familiar political, legendary, literary, and mystical themes. It shows, in a central cartouche, the Qajar ruler Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848-96) holding court; legendary kings are crowned; poems of Sa'di and Nizami are illustrated; and there are six portraits of Sufi dervishes. This important pen box is signed by the Qajar painter laureate (naqqash bashi), Muhammad Isma'il, who was active in the mid-nineteenth century and famous for his lacquer paintings. On the inside of the drawer, it contains a miniature self-portrait of the artist wearing an Astrakhan hat, paint brush in hand, in an oval cartouche. A couplet above and below identifies the artist’s name, Isma'il.
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