Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Lacquered Pen Box

Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624)
Object Name:
Pen box
late 17th–early 18th century
Possibly made in Deccan or Northern India
Papier-maché; painted, gilded, and lacquered
1 3/16 x 1 1/2 x 9 1/8 in. (3 x 3.8 x 23.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, 2002
Accession Number:
2002.416a, b
Not on view
The artist Manohar, who has signed his name next to the two lovers at the top of the lid, has adorned this box with a mix of images: the woman holding a tree is taken from ancient Indian sculpture, some figures have been borrowed from European pastoral scenes, and others are derived from Iranian miniatures.

The decoration on this lacquered pen box combines Indian, Persian, and European motifs in a hybrid style first seen in Iran in the late seventeenth century and subsequently in India, particularly in the Deccan. The central image is a young woman in Persian dress holding a branch above her head in the dohada salabhanjika (girl who fertilizes a tree) pose, familiar from ancient Indian art. Above her is an amorous couple in Indian dress, the woman standing beside a prince seated on a scalloped-back chair or throne. Below the main figure, a European gallant, perched on a rock, plays his flute as deer graze nearby. The sides of the box are painted with pastoral scenes copied from European masters, including groups of travelers, hunters, a pair of lovers, and views of distant architecture—conventions that were also popular in contemporary Safavid painting. Among the vignettes is one on the lower end of the box that shows two men bearing an oversize bunch of grapes on a pole; this motif was drawn from Nicolas Poussin’s allegory of autumn (ca. 1660).[1]

The previously unknown painter of this box, Manohar, is identified by an inscription in Persian near the amorous couple on the lid, at the upper right. He based the individual motifs in the decoration closely on those of a lacquered jewel casket in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, attributed to the artist Rahim Deccani.[2] The flute-playing figure is also seen in a lightly colored drawing in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, that bears an inscription ascribing the work to Rahim Deccani.[3] It is almost certain, therefore, that Manohar had access to the works of Rahim, if not to the painter himself, although the place where those works were produced remains unknown. The nisba "Deccani," following Rahim’s name, has led scholars to speculate that he must have been active outside the Deccan, although other works of the period attributed to the Deccan indicate that this distinctive style was being practiced there.[4]

Several well-known late-Safavid-period painters introduced both Indian and European motifs and styles into their work, although not necessarily always in combination.[5] These elements were expressed in a tinted drawing technique particularly evident in the works on lacquer of Shaikh ‘Abbasi and his sons, ‘Ali Naqi and Muhammad Taqi.[6] Contemporary and slightly later painting exhibits a predilection for shaded drawings in a similar style as well as for unusual shifts in scale, as seen in the work of the Persian painter Bahram Sufrakish. Manohar’s pen box displays the same exotic combination of motifs along with the shaded-drawing technique.

Navina Haidar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]


1. Haidar Haykel 2004, p. 183, fig. 10.

2. I bid., pp. 179 – 80, figs. 5, 6, 7.

3. I bid., p. 181, fig. 8.

4. Jaffer, Amin. Luxury Goods from India: The Art of the Indian Cabinet Maker. London, 2002, p. 61, gives an Iranian provenance for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s box by Rahim Deccani, suggesting the possibility that he may have been active in Iran.

5. The Safavid painters in question are Shaikh ‘Abbasi, ‘Ali Naqi, Muhammad Taqi, Bahram Sufrakish, Muhammad Zaman, and ‘Ali Quli Jabbadar.

6. Skelton, Robert. “‘Abbasi, Sayk.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica 1985–, vol. 1 (1985), pp. 86–88..

Lacquered casket (Victoria and Albert Museum, London no. 851-1889) and penbox (MMA no. 2002.416a, b)

The lacquered casket attributed to Rahim Deccani was probably intended for jewels, its cinched and curved shape reflective of the gaiety of its decoration (Victoria and Albert Museum, London no. 851-1889). Its evocative scenes depict a sleeping princess dreaming of her absent lover whose image appears above, a European gallant fluting, an enthroned prince with attendants, and a dancing courtesan with singers.[1] Also included is a woman in a diaphanous robe in the Indian salabhanjika pose, grasping the branch of a tree.

The casket came into the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in 1889 from the collection of Jules Richard, a Frenchman who had acquired it in Iran.[2] Its Iranian provenance implies that Rahim may have been working outside India, possibly in Iran.[3] A pen box, signed by the little-known artist Manohar (MMA no. 2002.416a, b), contains scenes almost identical to those on Rahim’s box, which indicate that the jewel casket must have been in India at some point. One side of Manohar’s pen box shows men carrying an oversize bunch of grapes, taken from the allegorical depiction of summer of about 1660 by French artist Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665).[4]

Navina Najat Haidar in (Haidar and Sardar 2015)


1- Other works attributed to Rahim Deccani include a pen box in the Freer and Sacker Galleries, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (F1959.5); a Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, painting (66.1); two boxes sold at auction (Zebrowski, Mark, "Deccani Painting". London: Sotheby’s; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983a p. 201); and a painting of a youth seated on rocks below a willow tree in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Zebrowski 1983a, p. 204, ill. no. 175).

2- Victoria and Albert Museum records.

3- Zebrowski, Mark, "Deccani Painting". London: Sotheby’s; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983a, p. 201.

4- Haidar, Navina Najat, "A Lacquer Pen-Box by Manohar: An Example of Late Safavid-Style Painting in India" In Crill, Rosemary, Susan Stronge, and Andrew Topsfield, Eds., Arts of Mughal India: Studies in Honour of Robert Skelton. London: Victoria & Albert Museum; Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing, 2004, p. 183.
Signature: Manohar

Inscription: Inscribed in Persian in nasta‘liq script in upper right-hand corner of lid:
کمترین منوهر
[Work of] the most humble Manohar
Private collection, France; [ Francesca Galloway, London, until 2002; sold to MMA]
New York. Asia Society. "In the Realm of Gods and Kings: Arts of India, Selections from the Polsky Collections and The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 14, 2004–January 2, 2005, no. 96.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy," April 20, 2015–July 26, 2015, no. 145.

"'A Penbox by Manohar: an example of Safavid style painting in India' by N. Haidar." In Essays in Honour of Robert Skelton. London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2004 forthcoming.

Topsfield, Andrew, ed. "Arts of India." In In the Realm of Gods and Kings. London; New York: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2004. no. 96, pp. 234-35, ill. (color).

Haidar, Navina, and Marika Sardar. "Opulence and Fantasy." In Sultans of Deccan India 1500–1700. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015. no. 145, pp. 250-251, ill. pl. 145 (color).

Related Objects

"Akbar Hunting with Cheetahs", Folio from an Akbarnama

Artist: Painting attributed to Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624) Date: ca. 1604 Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Accession: On view in:Not on view

The Virgin and Child Attended by Angels

Artist: Attributed to Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624) Date: ca 1600 Medium: Brown and blue ink with gold on paper Accession: 2015.785 On view in:Not on view

"Portrait of Zamana Beg, Mahabat Khan", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album

Artist: Painting by Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624) Date: recto: ca. 1610; verso: ca. 1530–40 Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Accession: On view in:Not on view

recto: "Portrait of Prince Danyal", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album

Artist: Painting by Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624) Date: recto: late 16th century; verso: ca. 1500 Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Accession: On view in:Not on view

"Black Buck", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album

Artist: Painting attributed to Manohar (active ca. 1582–1624) Date: recto: ca. 1615–20; verso: ca. 1530–50 Medium: Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Accession: On view in:Not on view