This binding comes from the same manuscript as the following two folios offered in lots 346 and 347. This gives us a very rare chance to appreciate a Mughal lacquer binding in the context for which it was designed.
The idea of painted and varnished wooden bindings is a very old tradition in the subcontinent, being used for example on Nepalese manuscripts dating at least as far back as the 12th century. Here however the scale of the manuscript and the format demands a different approach. Not surprisingly at this period the greatest source of inspiration was from Iran which had been producing lacquer bindings of this format for the previous century (Tim Stanley, "The rise of the Lacquer Binding", in Jon Thompson and Sheila R. Canby (eds.), The Hunt for Paradise, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 2003, pp.184-201). The composition of a ruler seated under a canopy in a garden surrounded by attendants is found in a number of Iranian examples such as one in the British Library (Stanley, op. cit., pl.7.10, p.195). In the present binding however the figrues are completely Indian and the floral designs have become much freer in interpretation than in the Iranian original. It is interesting to note here that, despite the fact that this was made as the cover for a Ragamala manuscript, there is no visual reference on it to music; little clue is given to the nature of the manuscript it was designed to guard. In his publication, the two aspects that Habighorst picks out are the points resembling a crown on the head of the central figure similar to the crowns on some of the figures inside, and the presence of eight ladies, each representing one of the musical notes of the Indian scale. A similarly sized contemporaneous Indian lacquer panel is in Copenhagen (Kjeld von Folsach, Art from the World of Islam in the David Collection, Copenhagen, 2001, no.75, p.102).