cAli Ashraf (Iranian, active 1727–56)
Papier-mâché, painted, sprinkled with mica, and lacquered
L. 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm)
Purchase, Patti Cadby Birch Gift, funds from various donors and Paul Anavian and Massoud Nader Gifts, 2008 (2008.246a,b)
cAli Ashraf, the painter who signed and dated this pen box, was a master of the "bird-and-flower" motif so popular on decorative objects produced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Iran. He seems to have specialized in the craft of lacquer, a distinctive feature of the art of this period. The subjects of his paintings are comparable to those favored by the best-known artists of his time, a tight-knit circle that included Hajji Muhammad, who specialized in lacquer objects with Europeanizing landscapes, and his brother Muhammad Zaman, under whom cAli Ashraf trained. His signature on one end of the box, "zi bacd-i Muhammad, cAli Ashraf shud" (After Muhammad, cAli Ashraf is noblest), is a punning reference to his teacher, and the irises he combined with architectural views in its decoration could be a nod to Muhammad Zaman's well-known series of iris studies.