Mirror Case with Hinged Shutter

rectangular papier-mâché case and hinged shutter, painted and varnished; with silver hinges and hasp

21.7 x 14.3cm (case); 19.7 x 12.5cm (shutter)

The back of the case and the outside of the shutter have been very finely painted with a composition of a single small bird perched on a luxuriant rose-bush, with carnations, hyacinths and other flowers below, and a butterfly at one side. The compositions are similar but not identical: for example, the bird on the case appears bright and alert, while that on the shutter is puffed out and sleepy. In both cases, the background is of sparkling gold, and there is some surface cracking.

The inner face of the shutter has been primed with gesso but not painted. An inscription on it, probably by Sir William Ouseley, reads, ‘By Aqa Zaman Head painter to the King of Persia / In the time of Kareem Khan / Shiraz June 20th 1811’. An album from the Ouseley collection in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, contains a painting of a court lady with a similar inscription, ‘This was drawn for me by a painter of Shiraz 1811. Wm Ouseley’.

The blank interior of the shutter may mean that the mirror case was unfinished when Sir William Ouseley bought it. But it may also indicate that mirror cases with flower-and-bird decoration on the exterior were produced speculatively, and that the inner face of the shutter was painted with a portrait or figural subject to the order of the eventual purchaser.

N.D. Khalili, B.W. Robinson & T. Stanley, Lacquer of the Islamic Lands, The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, volume XXII, Part One, London 1996, cat.73, pp.109–11.