dated 1193 AH (1779–80 AD))
papier-mâché cover and sliding compartment with rounded ends, painted and varnished
24.5 x 4.4 x 4.2cm
The principal decoration on this pen box consists of closely related versions of A visit to a sage. This scene, like those on the sides of the box, is set in a continuous landscape. The primary group of figures, which includes the sage himself and the prince who has come to consult him, are shown right of centre. The prince can be identified by his rich attire, which includes a cloak of gold brocade and trousers decorated with spiralling gold dots. A single attendant sits to the prince’s left, and the group is completed by a page attempting to control a horse. The narrow space to the right of the sage is occupied by a young dervish asleep beneath a tree, while the larger composition to the left of the page shows a young woman, recumbent and fondling a dog; two maids are in attendance. The addition of this female group may be an indication that the scene represented the visit of Akbar to Shaykh Salim Chishti: the young woman would be Akbar’s wife, who had failed to produce a male heir.
The sides show episodes from the romances of Khusraw and Shirin and of Yusuf and Zulaykha’, namely, Khusraw spies Shirin bathing and Yusuf’s visit to the aged Zulaykha’. The base of the cover and the sides of the sliding compartment are red, with gold floral scrollwork.
The signature, which is in gold nasta‘liq, reads, Ya sadiq al-wa‘d (‘O You who are true to Your promise!’). This was the crypto-signature used by Muhammad Sadiq.
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.97, pp.134–5.