Muhammad Isma'il is renowned for his ability to depict battle scenes on a miniature scale. His most famous examples of this are a casket in the Bern Historical Museum (B.W.Robinson, 'Persian Lacquer in the Bern Historical Museum', Iran, vol.VIII, 1970, reprinted in B.W.Robinson, Studies in Persian Art, vol.1, 1993, pp.268-282) and another similar which sold in these Rooms, 17 April 2007, lot 142. He may have been influenced by the large historical oil paintings that decorated the walls of Iranian palaces from the 17th century, for instance those of the Chihil Sutun. Indeed, the traveller John Ussher visited the Chihil Sutun in the early 1860s, and found 'a native artist, who was the best painter in Isfahan living in one of the rooms. His chief employment seemed to be painting kalemduns, or cases for holding writing materials, some of which were remarkably handsome and not exceed in minuteness or delicacy by productions of the finest miniature painting'. Khalili, Robinson and Stanley suggest that this is a description of Muhammad Isma'il who as naqqash-bashi may have lived or spent considerable time in the palace (Nasser D. Khalili, B.W. Robinson and Tim Stanley, Lacquer of the Islamic Lands, Vol. II, London, 1997, p. 46). As well as being a testament to the quality of Muhammad Isma'il's work, the quote also seems to suggest that he was known to do miniature painting, of which there are no known surviving examples, as well as his better known lacquer work.
Whether by Muhammad Isma'il or a close follower, the style of the present miniatures is almost certainly the product of his workshop. Down to the smallest idiosyncrasies, such as the dark double lines that trace the banks between the water and the rocks, the present miniatures echo his style. The coherent program of diagonals used to depict hundreds of tiny figures that would otherwise appear disorderly and chaotic is very typical of his work (Maryam Ekhtiar, 'Muhammad Isma'il Isfahani: Master Lacquer Painter', in Sheila R. Canby (ed.), Persian Masters, Five Centuries of Painting, Marg, Bombay, 1990, p. 138). The drawing in these miniatures is slightly less precise than that found on his lacquer work, which very possibly indicates that these were conceived as models or sketches from which he then produced lacquered works.
The subject matter too is characteristic of Muhammad Isma'il. The presence of the military hero Abbas Mirza in one of the miniatures of this lot may suggest that the miniatures depict a particular military campaign, perhaps the battle between Iran and the Ottoman Empire in 1821, where the Persians had a victory after the Battle of Erzurum. For two more miniatures from the same series and a biography of Muhammad Isma'il, please see the following lot.