The signature on the pencase reads: hasb al-farmayesh-e sarkar-e navvab-e ashraf-e vala ehtesham al-dawla ruhi fadahu , surat-e etmam padhiroft 'amal-e kamtarin Muhammad Isma'il naqqash-bashi 1277 (It was completed by the order of His Excellency, the Governor, the most Noble, the exalted Ihtisham al-Dawla - may my soul be sacrificed for him - the work of the humble Muhammad Isam'il, the chief painter 1277 (1860-61 AD)).
Khanlar Mirza (d. AH 1278/1861-62 AD), son of 'Abbas Mirza Na'ib al-Saltana, held the governorship of various provinces including Khuzistan, during the war with the British in AH 1273/1857 AD, where he was Commander-in-Chief. He received his title 'Ihtisham al-Dawla' in AH 1268/1851-52 AD (M. Bamdad, Dictionary of National Biography of Iran, 1700-1900, Vol. I, Tehran, 1966, pp.473-76).
On the basis of the Europeans depicted in the battle scenes, as well as the datation and patron, it is possible that the scenes portray the Anglo-Persian war which lasted between 1 November 1856 and 4 April 1857. In the war, the British opposed an attempt by Iran to reacquire the city of Herat which was nominally part of Afghanistan. Two caskets, one 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. I, 1993, pp.268-282) and another which sold in these Rooms, 17 April 2007, lot 277, both depict the siege of Herat, and in all pieces Isma'il presents ordered and well-balanced compositions with minimal evocation of the harsh realities of war.
Muhammad Isma'il was a painter of the Qajar period whose recorded works are dated between AH 1256/1840-41 AD and AH 1288/1871-72 AD. He received the title naqqash-bashi ('chief painter'), from Nasir al-Din Shah circa AH 1275/1858-59 AD. For more information on Muhammad Isma'il see Nasser D. Khalili, B.W.Robinson and Tim Stanley, Lacquer of the Islamic Lands, Vol. II, London, 1997, p. 46 and M.A.Karimzadeh Tabrizi, The Lives Art of Old Painters of Iran, Vol. I, London, 1985, pp. 66-76. In the latter publication this pen-box is recorded (Karimzadeh, op. cit., pp. 69-70).
The seal impression of the case maker Muhammad Jawad is embossed on the gold paper inside the lower lip of the cover. Muhammad Jawhad's qalamdans are known for being well made and well proportioned and most of the high quality penboxes that he made were subsequently decorated by master painters (for a further discussion on and similar works by Muhammd Jawad see Khalili et al, op. cit., p. 258).