India, possibly Deccan or Kashmir
Lacquered papier–mâché with gold leaf; L. 9 1/8 in. (23.3 cm)
Inscribed: [by the] kamtarin (the humble) mano'har
Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, 2002 (2002.416a,b)
This lacquer pen box is a fine example of a combination of Indian, Persian, and European elements first seen in painting in Iran at the end of the seventeenth century. The central motif depicts a young woman in Persian dress holding a branch above her head in a dohada salabhanjika (girl who fertilizes a tree) pose that is familiar from ancient Indian art. Above, an amorous couple is in Indian dress, the prince seated on a high, scalloped-back chair. Below, a European gallant, seated on the rocks, plays his flute to deer grazing nearby. The sides of the box are painted with pastoral scenes, including groups of travelers, hunters, a pair of lovers, and views of distant architecture, Europeanizing conventions that were popular in contemporary Safavid lacquer painting. The close relationship between this box, by the previously unknown Indian painter Manohar, and the lacquered jewel box in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, attributed to the artist Rahim Deccani, suggests that this appealing hybrid style was also practiced in India. Several important Persian artists are known to have spent time in India in the late seventeenth century, including at centers in the Deccan and as far north as Kashmir, giving rise to local painting styles that followed their influential role.