© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.112
People
Lutf 'Ali Shirazi, Persian
Title
Pen Box with Flowers and Putti
Classification
Artists' Tools
Work Type
printing block
Date
19th century
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran
Period
Qajar period
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/147770
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Opaque and semi-opaque watercolor on prepared pasteboard under non-original varnish
Dimensions
3.8 x 22 x 3 cm (1 1/2 x 8 11/16 x 1 3/16 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
2002.50.112
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
A roughly symmetrical composition of putti cavorting among acanthus leaves and blooming roses decorates the upper surface of this pen box. The same scheme appears on the sides, except that there the nudes are clearly female. The figures float through the air, suspended among the foliage, and grasp at the twisting stalks. On each of the three surfaces, scrolling gold acanthus leaves edged in dark brown intersect at the center to form a heart-shaped motif; this shape is more pronounced on the sides. A rose vine laden with blooms and a plant bearing smaller, pale blue flowers is interwoven with the gilded scrolls. The ground, a dark brownish black, offers the perfect contrast to the pale, luminescent torsos of the putti, the golden tone of the acanthus, and the green and pink of the rose vines. As in other examples of Persian lacquer, an application of tinted varnish—in this case not the original coating—warms the whole and has a unifying effect on the palette. The brownish-black base and sliding drawer of the pen box are decorated with gold floral sprays, while the end of the drawer features two more putti. The paint on the sides of the exterior is considerably thinner than on the upper surface. In raking light it is possible to see pin-pricked outlines around the principal motifs, evidence of the use of a pounced design. Such designs, intended for transferring motifs and compositions
from one medium to another, survive in albums of artists’ technical materials from
the Qajar era. The painter’s signature appears in tiny white script on the upper surface of the pen case, to the right of center at the top edge. Lutf Ali (d. 1871–72) was one of several accomplished lacquer artists active in Shiraz in the middle years of the 1800s, although he may have spent part of his career in Isfahan and or Tehran.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
57

Lutf ʿAli [Khan Shirazi]
Pen box with flowers and putti
Iran, Qajar period, 19th century
Opaque and semi-opaque watercolor on prepared pasteboard under non-original varnish[1]
3.8 × 22 × 3 cm (1 1/2 × 8 11/16 × 1 3/16 in.)
2002.50.112

A roughly symmetrical composition of putti cavorting among acanthus leaves and blooming roses decorates the upper surface of this pen box. The same scheme appears on the sides, except that there the nudes are clearly female. The figures float through the air, suspended among the foliage, and grasp at the twisting stalks. On each of the three surfaces, scrolling gold acanthus leaves edged in dark brown intersect at the center to form a heart-shaped motif; this shape is more pronounced on the sides. A rose vine laden with blooms and a plant bearing smaller, pale blue flowers is interwoven with the gilded scrolls. The ground, a dark brownish black, offers the perfect contrast to the pale, luminescent torsos of the putti, the golden tone of the acanthus, and the green and pink of the rose vines. As in other examples of Persian lacquer, an application of tinted varnish—in this case not the original coating—warms the whole and has a unifying effect on the palette.

The brownish-black base and sliding drawer of the pen box are decorated with gold floral sprays, while the end of the drawer features two more putti. The paint on the sides of the exterior is considerably thinner than on the upper surface. In raking light it is possible to see pin-pricked outlines around the principal motifs, evidence of the use of a pounced design. Such designs, intended for transferring motifs and compositions from one medium to another, survive in albums of artists’ technical materials from the Qajar era.[2]

The painter’s signature appears in tiny white script on the upper surface of the pen case, to the right of center at the top edge. Lutf ʿAli (d. 1871–72) was one of several accomplished lacquer artists active in Shiraz in the middle years of the 1800s, although he may have spent part of his career in Isfahan or Tehran.[3]

David J. Roxburgh

[1] The heavy surface coating on this pen box is non-original and is not shellac (it did not match any library spectra), according to Narayan Khandekar, Senior Conservation Scientist, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard Art Museums.
[2] One example is a Qajar album of sketches and other materials in the Harvard Art Museums (1960.161). See also, in this volume, cat. 152 and David Roxburgh’s essay, “The Qajar Lacquer Object,” 65–75.
[3] For further discussion and comparative signed materials, see Khalili et al. 1997, 1:206–19; 2:124.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), p. 209, cat. 57, 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

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu