Pen Box (qalamdan)

Isfahan, Iran, Mid-late 19th century

Painted and lacquered papier-mâché

Embossed with maker’s seal of Muhammad Husayn Taraj Isfahani

22.5cm long

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Full Description

Pen Box (qalamdan)

This finely decorated pen box with sliding cover features a central cartouche with European imagery. The scene shows a semi-nude female reclining beneath trees, gazing in the direction of her left hand while holding an overhanging branch. In the background there is a reclining man in a field with grazing animals, a couple strolling in the woods, and a body of water with a bridge and buildings beyond. Two mirroring cartouches filled with intricate scrollwork and floral motifs flank this central scene; the remaining space is filled with gold scrollwork against a black ground; and a narrow cross-hatched border surrounds the entire top of the pen box. Dense scrollwork covers the rest of the box within varying patterns. The base of the cover has a rich red ground.

The bottom edge of the pen box cover bears a maker’s seal, indicating that it was made by Muhammad Husayn Taraj Isfahani. Eight pen boxes in the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art have the same seal, which reads in nasta‘līq script: ‘ṣaḥḥa Tarāj’ (‘It is up to standard. Taraj’). Taraj is known to have been a poet, writer and pasteboard maker living in Isfahan, and is the only recorded maker known to have created pen boxes with pointed ends in addition to the standard rounded examples. [1] For further information on Taraj and examples of his pen boxes, see Khalili pp. 257-8.

Literature: Khalili, N. D., B.W. Robinson and T. Stanley. Lacquer of the Islamic Lands, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, Volume XXII, Part Two, The Nour Foundation, London, 1997.

[1] Khalili, p.257

Pen Box (qalamdan)


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