This pencase is signed in two places: in the central cartouche on the sides of the seated Nasr al-Din Shah raqam-e muhammad isma'il naqqashbashi, and at the far end of the interior of the tray, beside a self portrait, Isma'il naqqashbashi 1283/1866-7. This appears to be one of only two published penboxes by Muhammad Isma'il which contain a portrait of the artist. The other, which had a very similar layout and content to the composition indeed, and was dated one year earlier, was sold recently at Sotheby's (12 October 2000, lot 90).
The other inscriptions are:
In the cartouches round the top, including the end of the inner case: A mathnavi starting with praise of Nasr al-Din Shah which is found on other objects including lacquer:
Nasr-e din shah khadiv-e jahan sadr neshin-e hameh-ye khosrovan (Nasr al-Din Shah, the sovereign of the World The one who sits in the highest place [among all] the kings)
It then goes on to say that all the kings of Kay and Pishdad (including Jam, Kay Khusraw, Kay Qubad, Khusraw, Bahram, Anushirvan, Sanjar, Alexander, Tahmureth and Afrasiyab) would not have been alive, had their names not been written down, for that this is written :
van qalam an beh keh darin ruzgar
thabt konad madh-e amir-e kebar
mir-e jahan nazem-e fawj-e nezam
molk-e shahanshah-e jahan ra saham
mir-e honarmand summi khalil
ankeh bovad az omaray-e jalil
"At this time, it is best that the pen should
Register the praise of the great amirs
The prince of the world, the regulator of the troops in the army
The one who has shares in the kingdom of the King of kings
The artist prince synonymous with Khalil
The one who is one of the illustrious commanders"
No prince called Khalil is recorded who would fit the patron at all. The name Khalil is however the attribute of Moses. Mirza Musa Ashtiyani was appointed as vazir-e daftar in 1289/1872-3 and vazir-e lashgar (In charge of the finances of the army) in 1291/1874-5. He died in 1298/1881. (M. Bamdad: Dictionary of National Biography of Iran, IV, Tehran, 1966, p.163, photo p.164). He is recorded by I'timad al-Saltana under the listing : "Those of knowledge and excellence" as the greatest of learned men, having knowledge in literature, composition and arts. Also among those who have received the king's timthal (the medal with the effigy/portrait of the king) (M. H. I'timad al-Saltana, al-ma'athir wa al-athar, vol. I, ed. I. Afshar, 1363, pp. 266, 309).
A fuller description of all the subjects and inscriptions on this penbox is available on request from the department.
An earlier penbox by the same artist is offered as lot 99 in this sale. For further details about him please see the entry under that lot.