Pen Box With Flowers, Birds, And Portraits
top © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.110
People
Haydar 'Ali, Persian
Title
Pen Box with Flowers, Birds, and Portraits
Classification
Artists' Tools
Work Type
pen box
Date
1873-74 (H. 1290)
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran
Period
Qajar period
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Opaque and semi-opaque watercolor on prepared pasteboard under shellac varnish
Dimensions
4 x 21.7 x 3.3 cm (1 9/16 x 8 9/16 x 1 5/16 in.)
Provenance
[Hadji Baba Rabbi House of Antiquities, Teheran, 1973], sold; to Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (1973-2002), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2002.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
Accession Year
2002
Object Number
2002.50.110
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
Descriptions
Description
On the dark brown upper surface of this pen case, European portrait roundels of a man and a woman are separated by three bird-and- flower vignettes. These unite different flora, with the rose predominating at the center, its branching stem inhabited by a solitary red-crested bird and insects fluttering around it. Haydar Ali’s signature and the date of production appear in miniature white script in the spaces between the central bird-and- flower grouping and the flanking portraits. To add texture, the artist has used a technique combining wash and stippling in fine dots of pigment. The long sides of the pen case continue the bird- and- flower theme, expanding the botanical repertoire to include carnations, hazelnuts, and tulips. There are occasional, and presumably intentional, instances of visual ambiguity where what appear to be plants and flowers could be interpreted as insects. The base is painted in a solid red pigment with an overlying elegant scroll of flowers and palmettes executed in gold. The outer body of the extractable drawer follows the pattern of the base, while its end, built up to be flush with the surface of the outer case when the drawer is closed, is decorated with daisies, poppies, and an iris. The unadorned inner surface of the case reveals the method of construction through many layers of paper glued one upon another. A single word, muhkam (robust, strong), written at an indeterminate time, attests the physical integrity of the object. Haydar Ali, son of Muhammad Ismail, was active in the 1860s and 1870s and worked in the style of Najaf Ali. Several works signed by him are known.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
56

Haydar ʿAli
Pen box with flowers, birds, and portraits
Iran, Qajar period, dated 1290 (1873–74)
Opaque and semi-opaque watercolor on prepared pasteboard under shellac varnish
4 × 21.7 × 3.3 cm (1 9/16 × 8 9/16 × 1 5/16 in.)
2002.50.110

Published: McWilliams 2004, 10, fig. 13.

On the dark brown upper surface of this pen case, European portrait roundels of a man and a woman are separated by three bird-and-flower vignettes. These unite different flora, with the rose predominating at the center, its branching stem inhabited by a solitary red-crested bird and insects fluttering around it. Haydar ʿAli’s signature, raqam-i Ḥaydar ʿAlī (work or design of Haydar ʿAli) and the date of production appear in miniature white script in the spaces between the central bird-and-flower grouping and the flanking portraits.[1] To add texture, the artist has used a technique combining wash and stippling in fine dots of pigment. The long sides of the pen case continue the bird-and-flower theme, expanding the botanical repertoire to include carnations, hazelnuts, and tulips. There are occasional, and presumably intentional, instances of visual ambiguity where what appear to be plants and flowers could be interpreted as insects.

The base is painted in a solid red pigment with an overlying elegant scroll of flowers and palmettes executed in gold. The outer body of the extractable drawer follows the pattern of the base, while its end, built up to be flush with the surface of the outer case when the drawer is closed, is decorated with daisies, poppies, and an iris. The unadorned inner surface of the case reveals the method of construction through many layers of paper glued one upon another. A single word, muḥkam (robust, strong), written at an indeterminate time, attests the physical integrity of the object.

Haydar ʿAli, son of Muhammad Ismaʿil, was active in the 1860s and 1870s and worked in the style of Najaf ʿAli. Several works signed by him are known.[2]

David J. Roxburgh

[1] In its most common usage, raqm (or raqam) means “writing” or “figuring,” but in this context “work” or “design” makes better sense. Earlier usages of the noun raqm or raqam, as well as the derivatives of the trilateral root m-sh-q, mashq (literally, specimen, exercise, model) and mashaqa (literally, to copy), suggest a conflation of the acts of writing and drawing and appear most frequently in the signatures of the Safavid artist Riza ʿAbbasi (c. 1560s–1635). For a catalogue of that artist’s works and signatures, see Canby 1996b, 179–200.
[2] Signed and attributed examples and further biographical details on Haydar ʿAli are provided in Khalili et al. 1997, 2:25–26, 46; cats. 236, 282, and 283–85.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, Closely Focused, Intensely Felt: Selections from the Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, brochure, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2004)

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), pp. 67-69, ill.; p. 208, cat. 56, ill.

Exhibition History

Closely Focused, Intensely Felt: Selections from the Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/07/2004 - 01/02/2005

In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2013 - 06/01/2013

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Verification Level

3 - Good. Object is well described and information is vetted