Mirror Case with Hinged Shutter

papier-mâché case and hinged shutter, painted and varnished; silver fittings

27.8 x 16.5cm

The decoration of this mirror case combines a portrait of a contemporary personality with Frankish fantasies of the type that often appears in the work of Isma‘il, and which he seems to have derived from work produced in the circle of Najaf ‘Ali in the later years of that master’s life.

The front of the shutter shows Armenian clergy and worshippers, and the back of the case a European banquet, with grooms and horses in the foreground. At the corners are oval panels of angels in European dress offering dishes of flowers or fruit. The inner face of the shutter bears a portrait of Mirza Aqa Khan Nuri, chief minister of Nasir al-Din Shah between 1852 and 1858, possibly based on a watercolour by the well-known Qajar painter Abu’l-Hasan Ghaffari (Sani‘ al-Mulk).

Such ‘European’ subjects with Christian themes may be allusions to the story of Shaykh San‘an in Farid al-Din ‘Attar’s much admired mystical romance, Mantiq al-tayr (‘The Conference of the Birds’). He fell in love with a cruel Christian maiden and for her sake abandoned his religion, but through his resulting humiliations attained enlightenment and converted the maiden to Islam too.

N.D. Khalili, B.W. Robinson & T. Stanley, Lacquer of the Islamic Lands, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, volume XXII, Part Two, London 1997, cat.260, pp.70–71. J.M. Rogers, The Arts of Islam. Masterpieces from the Khalili Collection, London 2010, cat.471, pp.388–9.