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Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Pen Box (Qalamdan) Depicting Shah Isma'il in a Battle against the Uzbeks

Object Name:
Pen box
Date:
early 19th century
Geography:
Attributed to Iran
Medium:
Papier-maché; painted and lacquered
Dimensions:
H. 1 1/2 in. (3.8 cm) W. 10 1/8 in. (25.7 cm) D. 1 7/8 in. (4.8 cm)
Classification:
Lacquer
Credit Line:
Purchase, Elizabeth S. Ettinghausen Gift, in memory of Richard Ettinghausen; and Stephenson Family Foundation Gift, 2006
Accession Number:
2006.523a, b
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 462
Painted in a harmonious palette of pastels with touches of gold on a cream-colored background, this pen box is an unusual and sensitively drawn example of Persian lacquer from the dawn of the nineteenth century, possibly by the master court painter Mirza Baba (active 1780s–1810) or an artist in his circle. The top depicts one of the battles between the first Safavid ruler, Shah Isma'il I (r. 1501–24), and the Ottoman Turks in the second decade of the sixteenth century, possibly the Battle of Chaldiran of 1514. In the foreground, the two armies are shown in fierce battle against a row of cannons, at the time the ultimate symbol of the modern military. In the scenes on the two sides, which continue onto the rounded ends, men on horseback, accompanied by dogs, hunt bears and gazelles in a delicately painted Europeanizing landscape with buildings. The details of the landscape and architecture and the rendering of the figures and animals evince the continuation of the late Safavid Perso-European style into the early nineteenth century.
This pen box, which has a sliding compartment, is painted on all sides, including the rounded ends, in an unusual palette of cream-colored beige and pastels with touches of gold. The top depicts one of the battles that took place between the Safavid ruler Isma‘il I (r. 1501–24) and the Ottoman Turks in the second decade of the sixteenth century (possibly the battle of Chaldiran in 1514). The scene shows the two armies in fierce combat in the foreground against a row of cannons, weapons that the Ottomans increasingly used in battle during the early Safavid period. Regarded as the most advanced form of European-style weaponry, the cannon was considered as an emblem of military modernization. A similar pen box in the Brooklyn Museum collection contains a depiction of the same battle.
The two sides of the pen box show men on horseback accompanied by dogs hunting bears and gazelles against a Europeanizing landscape and architecture. The bottom contains finely painted gold floral scrollwork on a deep red ground. This box has been lightly varnished. For this reason, and unlike other examples of the period, the painting is not obscured under thickly coated lacquer.
The figures, horses, and landscape are delicately rendered in harmonious colors with some use of gold. It is an unusual example of lacquer painting from the dawn of the nineteenth century, possibly by the master court painter Mirza Baba (active 1780s–1810) or an artist in his circle. Its similarity in style, composition, and palette to a signed pen box by Mirza Baba dated 1794 A.D. now in the Nasser D. Khalili Collection in London supports this attribution. The details of landscape as well as the rendition of the figures demonstrate the continuation of the late Safavid Perso-European style of painters such as Muhammad Zaman (active 1643–89) and ‘Ali Quli Beg Jabbadar (active 1657–1716) into the early nineteenth century
Maryam Ekhtiar in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Private collection, England; Christie's, London, April 7, 2006, no. 210, to Nader; [ Massoud Nader, New York, 2006; sold to MMA]
"7 April 2006." In Indian and Islamic Art and Textiles. London: Christie's, South Kensington, 2006. no. 210, p. 56, ill. fig. 210.

Hearn, Maxwell K., Denise Patry Leidy, Zhixin Jason Sun, Kurt Behrendt, Miyeko Murase, and Jeff L. Rosenheim. "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2006–2007." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65, no.2 (Fall 2007). p. 38, ill. (color).

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. 193, pp. 174, 276-277, ill. p. 276 (color).



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