Pen Box with Flowers, Birds, and Portraits

Haydar 'Ali1873 - 1874

Harvard Art Museums

Harvard Art Museums
Cambridge, United States

On the dark brown upper surface of this pen case, European portrait roundels of a man and a woman are separated by three bird-and- flower vignettes. These unite different flora, with the rose predominating at the center, its branching stem inhabited by a solitary red-crested bird and insects fluttering around it. Haydar Ali’s signature and the date of production appear in miniature white script in the spaces between the central bird-and- flower grouping and the flanking portraits. To add texture, the artist has used a technique combining wash and stippling in fine dots of pigment. The long sides of the pen case continue the bird- and- flower theme, expanding the botanical repertoire to include carnations, hazelnuts, and tulips. There are occasional, and presumably intentional, instances of visual ambiguity where what appear to be plants and flowers could be interpreted as insects. The base is painted in a solid red pigment with an overlying elegant scroll of flowers and palmettes executed in gold. The outer body of the extractable drawer follows the pattern of the base, while its end, built up to be flush with the surface of the outer case when the drawer is closed, is decorated with daisies, poppies, and an iris. The unadorned inner surface of the case reveals the method of construction through many layers of paper glued one upon another. A single word, muhkam (robust, strong), written at an indeterminate time, attests the physical integrity of the object. Haydar Ali, son of Muhammad Ismail, was active in the 1860s and 1870s and worked in the style of Najaf Ali. Several works signed by him are known.


  • Title: Pen Box with Flowers, Birds, and Portraits
  • Creator Lifespan: 1/1
  • Creator Nationality: Persian
  • Date: 1873 - 1874
  • Physical Dimensions: w21.7 x h4.0 x d3.3 cm
  • Period: Qajar period
  • Credit Line: Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
  • Creation Place: Iran/Middle East
  • Artist: Haydar 'Ali
  • Type: Artists' Tools
  • External Link: Harvard Art Museums
  • Medium: Opaque and semi-opaque watercolor on prepared pasteboard under shellac varnish

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more

Flash this QR Code to get the app
Google apps