Writing Box

Object Name: Writing box

Date: late 16th–early 17th century

Geography: Made in India or Pakistan, Gujarat or Sind

Culture: Islamic

Medium: Wood; veneered with ebony, inlaid with ivory and bone (partially stained), brass (sadeli technique)

Dimensions: H. 13 1/2 in. (34.3 cm)
W. 20 7/8 in. (53 cm)
D. 5 1/8 in. (13 cm)

Classification: Wood

Credit Line: Purchase, Pat and John Rosenwald Gift, 2004

Accession Number: 2004.439


The surfaces of this writing box are veneered with ebony and inlaid with ivory and sadeli, a micromosaic technique in use since antiquity. It is associated with the eastern Mediterranean region, from whence it spread to Iran and India. This technique consists of binding together sections of diverse materials (tin, wood, ivory, bone, etc.), which are sliced transversally and formed into thin sheets of repeating patterns that are adhered to a wooden support. An earlier method of mother-of-pearl inlaid into wood, in the sixteenth century destined primarily for the Turkish market, predates sadeli in western India; this box, however, resembles a later group, some of which were made for export to Europe.
The overall decorative scheme of the box closely relates to a wider Islamic taste. In particular, the areas of complex geometric patterning and medallion forms, especially the central star motif, recall the distinctive and influential formula that evolved in the Mamluk and Ottoman worlds, where it became a familiar treatment for the surfaces of furniture, doors, ceilings, carpets, and textiles. The borders around the edges of the box contain scrolling vines bearing half-palmette motifs in a contrasting and more fluid drawing style.