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


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.