Lacquer Mirror Case, Painting by Fathallah Shirazi (Iranian, active 1850s–80s), Papier-maché; painted, gilded, and lacquered

Lacquer Mirror Case

Painting by Fathallah Shirazi (Iranian, active 1850s–80s)
Object Name:
Mirror case
dated A.H. 1295/ A.D. 1878
Made in Iran
Papier-maché; painted, gilded, and lacquered
2 1/2 x 6 1/16 x 3 1/2 in. (6.4 x 15.4 x 8.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Irma B. Wilkinson, 1979
Accession Number:
1979.460.2a, b
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 462
The exquisitely painted mirror case has a tan ground covered with a graceful gold grapevine scroll over which the main design has been painted in delicate shades of black. The artist, Fathallah Shirazi, has signed his name and given the date (1295/1878) on one side of the case. The inscription on the other side alludes to the patron but does not give his name. Fathallah was court painter to Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848–96), and was highly regarded for his lacquerwork, which is known primarily from a number of penboxes. These most often have a black ground onto which oval scrolls and swags of roses are painted in gold. On this mirror case, however, a variety of sleek birds and robust butterflies are scattered among branches bearing a dazzling array of sumptuous blossoms and bursting buds. This early work of the painter would appear to be the only known example in this particular style.
During the Nasiri period (1848–96), Iran witnessed a proliferation in the production of a wide array of lacquer objects. Regarded as desirable possessions and status symbols, painted lacquerwares were commissioned by royal and elite patrons, sold commercially, and exported abroad in quantity. Lacquer painters took great pride in their individual styles, which they demonstrated by signing and dating their works.
This finely painted mirror case consists of two separate unhinged semicircles. It is signed by Fathallah Shirazi (active 1850s–80s), a lacquer painter at the court (naqqashbashi) of Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar (r. 1848–96), and dated A.H. 1295/1878 A.D. The case is rendered in the artist’s distinct style, which incorporated an unusual palette of tan, gold, and black. Many of his works consist of gul-u-bulbul (bird-and-flower) designs in gold with touches of black on a tan ground. The decoration here includes birds perched on the branches of rosebushes with blossoms and buds, as well as butterflies hovering over hazelnut and fruit trees.
The inscription along the curvature of the rim features the signature of Fathallah Shirazi and the date A.H. 1295 /1878 A.D. It also alludes to the patron, a certain ‘Aqa’, and refers to him as the most exalted and most honorable excellency.[1] Inscriptions on analogous lacquer objects signed by this artist state that he was commissioned by a number of princes, governors, state officials, and noblemen of the period.[2] Two such items are part of a lacquer set with a pen box and a spectacle case that contain an inscription dedicated to Nasir al-Din Shah’s second chief minister, Mirza Taqi Khan Amir Kabir (d. 1852).[3] The set is painted in the same delicate palette as this mirror case; its inscription attests to the role of fine lacquerwares as cherished possessions at the highest levels of Qajar society.
Maryam EKhtiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. For details, see Karimzada Tabrizi, Muhammad Ali. Ahval va Asar-i Naqqashan-i Qadim-i Iran. Vol. 2. London, 1990, pp. 497–99.
2. I bid. A Qur’an lacquer binding in the collection of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, is dedicated to Aqa Mirza Farajallah Khan and dated A.H. 1302/1884–85.
3. See Pierre Bergé and Associés, Paris et Bruxelles (Antoine Godeau and Fréderic Chambre), Arts d’Orient, archéologie, sale, Paris, June 17, 2010, lot 25.
Signature: Fathollah Shirazi

Inscription: Inscription in Persian in nasta‘liq script on one side:
بر حسب فرمایش جناب جلالت مآب اجل اکرم آقا دام مجده العالي سمت اتمام یافت
Completed by the order of the most exalted excellency, the great honorable ‘Aqa’,
may his glory continue forever

Signature in Persian in nasta‘liq script on back:
رقم کمترین بندهٔ درگاه فتح الله شیرازى سنة 129 ۵
Painted by the most humble servant of the court, Fathallah Shirazi,
in the year A.H. 1295 [ A.D. 1878]
Irma B. Wilkinson, Sharon, CT (until 1979; gifted to MMA)
New York. Leubsdorf Gallery at Hunter College. "Re-Orientations: Islamic Art and the West in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries," February 7, 2008–April 26, 2008, no catalogue.

"M.M.A. Notable Acquisitions 1979–80." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 37 (1979–1980). p. 19, ill. p. 19 (b/w).

Bates, Ülkü. Re-Orientations: Islamic Art and the West in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. New York, 2008. no. 32, pp. 94–95, ill.

Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 194, pp. 174, 277, ill. p. 194 (color).