The inscriptions are as follows:
Flanking the central cartouche are four panels inscribed:
shabih-e salatin-e qajar amal-e isma'il 1269
(The portraits of the Qajar kings. The work of Isma'il 1269/1852-3 AD).
The other inscriptions all identify the subjects. They are read as follows.
muhammad shah-e ghazi al-sultan-e ghazi
al-sultan ibn al-sultan nasir al-din shah-e ghazi
majlis-e thani nasr al-din shah-e ghazi
majlis-e seyum shabih-e fath'ali shah-e ghazi
al-sultan fath'alishah-e qajar
On the sides, the portraits are identified as:
The portrait of Fath'ali Khan Qajar
The portrait of Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar
The portrait of Husaynquli Khan Qajar
The portrait of Muhammad Hasan Khan Qajar
'Abbas Mirza Na'ib al-Saltana
The portrait of Muhammad 'Ali Mirza
The portraits are not only of the Qajar kings but also of the leaders of the family before the Qajars came to power such as Fath'Ali Khan (d.1139/1726), his son Muhammad Hasan Khan, and grandson Husaynquli Khan, father of Fath 'Ali Shah. Each is depicted as the central figure surrounded by numerous courtiers. Also similarly depicted are early nineteenth century princes such as 'Ali Shah (Zill al-Sultan), Muhammad 'Ali Mirza, Husayn'ali Mirza and 'Abbas Mirza Na'ib al-Saltana.
The depiction of so many members of the Qajar royal family strongly reinforces the length of the pedigree and the importance of the dynasty. At a time when the shah was still relatively newly on the throne, there is obviously a strong political message here. It is interesting to note that, in the penbox with very similar layout by the same artist some fifteen years later, offered as lot 93 in this sale, the shah is now looking to the shahnama for his true antecedents, rather than the immediate members of his family seen here.
Muhammad Isma'il was a painter at the Qajar court for almost all his career, being awarded the title naqqash basi or painter laureate. His style was strongly influenced by Najaf 'Ali, and it is possible that the two were related, although the suggestion that Muhammad Isma'il was Najaf 'Ali's brother has now been discounted. (N. D. Khalili, B. W. Robinson and T. Stanley: Lacquer of the Islamic Lands, part two, London, 1997, p.26). He specialised in the minute depiction of numerous figures, many of them individual portraits. His largest published work, a casket in Berne, is covered with battle scenes in which more than a thousand figures have been counted (B. W. Robinson: "Persian Lacquer in the Bern historical Museum", Iran, VIII, 1970, pp.48-9). The Khalili Collection holds a particularly large and fully representative selection of his work (Khalili, Robinson and Stanley, op.cit, nos.241-269, pp.46-79).