© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
2002.50.107
Title
Mirror-Case Cover with Mother, Child, and Angel
Classification
Mirrors
Work Type
mirror case
Date
19th century
Places
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran
Period
Qajar period
Persistent Link
https://hvrd.art/o/160670
Physical Descriptions
Medium
Opaque and semi-opaque watercolor on prepared pasteboard under varnish
Dimensions
10 x 12.3 cm (3 15/16 x 4 13/16 in.)
Provenance
Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (by 1995-2002), 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
2002.50.107
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions
Description
The outer surface of this mirror-case cover features a rose-and- nightingale theme. Here the bulbul appears among flowers—roses and hydrangeas—against a reddish-brown ground enclosed by a ruled border. At the top right, above the hydrangeas, a small inscription in white nasta? liq reads ya Imam ?asan (O Imam Hasan), invoking the second Shi?i Imam, son of ?Ali ibn Abi Talib and Fatima. The presence of this text suggests that a related theme, such as a devotional image of ?Ali and his sons Hasan and Husayn, will be found on the inner surface of the lid, so what actually appears there delivers a surprise: a grouping, derived from Christian sources, of a mother, her child, and an angel in a landscape setting. The Qajar rendition of this scene conflates the iconography of the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel, bearing a lily, appears before the Virgin Mary, with that of Mary holding the infant Jesus, from whose head radiates a subtle halo. Although Mary’s red and blue clothing follows the standard color convention, she is dressed as a modern, bejeweled European lady. In a form of immodest modesty, the bodice of her dress is cut so low that it exposes her breasts, which are barely concealed by a diaphanous silky covering. The same gauzy fabric makes up her long but revealing sleeves. The painting technique of this scene differs from that of the outer surface: here the underlying ivory-colored pasteboard is not completely covered with pigment. Rather, washes of bright paint dominated by red, blue, green, and gold, as well as extremely fine stippling, are applied to the paper, producing an effect that resembles ceramic glazing. The tinted monochrome palette of the landscape is typical of Qajar lacquer objects that, in adopting subject matter from European prints, mimic the effects of engraving. The treatment of Mary’s bosom is reminiscent of the fusion of profane and Christian subjects developed in Mughal painting during the reign of Akbar (1556–1605) and fostered by his son and successor Jahangir (r. 1605–27). The eroticized image of the European woman, common in Qajar art, represents an appropriation of various European sources mediated through Indian artworks.

Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013
54

Mirror-case cover with mother, child, and angel
Iran, Qajar period, 19th century
Opaque and semi-opaque watercolor on prepared pasteboard under shellac varnish
12.3 × 10 cm (4 13/16 × 3 15/16 in.)
2002.50.107

The outer surface of this mirror-case cover, like that of cat. 53, features a rose-and- nightingale theme. Here the bulbul appears among flowers—roses and hydrangeas—against a reddish-brown ground enclosed by a ruled border. At the top right, above the hydrangeas, a small inscription in white nastaʿ līq reads yā Imām Ḥasan (O Imam Hasan), invoking the second Shiʿi Imam, son of ʿAli ibn Abi Talib and Fatima. The presence of this text suggests that a related theme, such as a devotional image of ʿAli and his sons Hasan and Husayn, will be found on the inner surface of the lid, so what actually appears there delivers a surprise: a grouping, derived from Christian sources, of a mother, her child, and an angel in a landscape setting. The Qajar rendition of this scene conflates the iconography of the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel, bearing a lily, appears before the Virgin Mary, with that of Mary holding the infant Jesus, from whose head radiates a subtle halo. Although Mary’s red and blue clothing follows the standard color convention, she is dressed as a modern, bejeweled European lady. In a form of immodest modesty, the bodice of her dress is cut so low that it exposes her breasts, which are barely concealed by a diaphanous silky covering. The
same gauzy fabric makes up her long but revealing sleeves.

The painting technique of this scene differs from that of the outer surface: here the underlying ivory-colored pasteboard is not completely covered with pigment. Rather, washes of bright paint dominated by red, blue, green, and gold, as well as extremely fine stippling, are applied to the paper, producing an effect that resembles ceramic glazing. The tinted monochrome palette of the landscape is typical of Qajar lacquer objects that, in adopting subject matter from European prints, mimic the effects of engraving.

The treatment of Mary’s bosom is reminiscent of the fusion of profane and Christian subjects developed in Mughal painting during the reign of Akbar (1556–1605) and fostered by his son and successor Jahangir (r. 1605–27).1 The eroticized image of the European woman, common in Qajar art, represents an appropriation of various European sources mediated through Indian artworks.[2]

David J. Roxburgh

[1] See Findly 1993, 66–86.
[2] Traffic of artists and their art between the royal courts of India and Iran was brisk from the mid-1500s onward. For the Mughal use of European images, see Bailey 1998. On the erotic image in Qajar art, see Najmabadi 1998, 76–89.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), p. 70, ill.; p. 206, cat. 54, 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