pen box top Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Muhammad Kazim ibn Najaf `Ali
Pen Box with Nasir al-Din Shah and His Court; and Rulers from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) by Firdawsi
Artists' Tools
Work Type
pen box
Creation Place: Middle East, Iran, Isfahan
Qajar period
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Opaque watercolor, gold-colored pigments, and lacquer over brass layer on pasteboard
4.1 × 4 × 23.7 cm (1 5/8 × 1 9/16 × 9 5/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: The signature (base) reads: Raqm-i kamtarīn Muḥammad Kaẓim bi tarīkh-i sana 1296 (The work of the lowliest Muhammad Kazim in the year 1879-80). There are numerous additional inscriptions. Those that can be deciphered read as follow:


    ناصر دین خسرو صاحبقران
    صدر نشین همه خسروان
    Nasir al-Din Shah (nāṣir-i dīn), the lord of the auspicious planetary conjunction,
    The ruler of all kings.

    Zill al-Sultan
    Na’ib al-Saltana
    Mirza ‘Aliquli
    ظل السلطان
    نایب السلطنه
    میرزا علیقلی

    Comptroller general
    Prime minister
    (؟) حسنعلی

    Feast of Kaykavus and Kaykhusraw
    بزم کیکاوس و کیخسرو

    Sarv, Qarin, Giv, Gudarz
    Zal, Rustam, Harzad
    سرو، قارن، گیو، گودرز
    زال، رستم، هرزد


    The court of Faridun and Manuchihr beside him
    بارگاه فریدون و منوچهر نزد او

    Manuchihr, Faridun, Sarv, Qarin, Harzad
    Hushang, Giv, Gudarz
    منوچهر، فریدون، سرو، قارن، هرزد
    هوشنگ، گیو، گودرز

    Garsivaz, Afrasiyab, Gushtasb, Luhrasb
    گرسیوز، افراسیاب، گشتاسب، لهراسب

    Court of Jamshid and the ordering of the world
    بارگاه جمشید جم و انتظام عالم

    Court of Anushiravan the just and the chain of justice
    بارگاه انوشیروان عادل و زنجیر عدل

    Portraits of Darab and Iskandar with a poetic inscription


    Because of speech they have a name
    The heart of speech is alive because of the pen
    If the pen had not moved
    There would have been no name of Faridun and Jamshid
    از سخنست آن همه را نام و هم
    زنده بود جان سخن از قلم
    جنبش اگر زانکه نکردی قلم
    نام نماندی ز فریدون و جم

    Court of Khusraw Parviz and conversation with Buzurgmihr
    بارگاه خسرو پرویز و گفتار با بزرگ امید

    The assembly of Gengiz Khan and advising his sons
    مجلس چنگیزخان و نصیحت پسران

    Court of Anushirvan and Buzurjmihr beside him
    بارگاه انوشیروان عادل و بوزرجمهر نزد او

    اسفندیار/ بهمن

    The names of the Kayani and Pishdadi kings
    From Jamshid and Kaykhusraw to Kayqubad
    They have remained in the world because of speech
    And speech became eternal because of the pen
    نام سلاطین کی و پیشداد
    از جم از کیخسرو [و] از کیقباد
    ماند بعالم ز سخن یادگار
    هم سخن آمد ز قلم پایدار

    Portrait of Afrasiyab and Turkish heros
    تصویر افراسیاب و پهلوانان ترک

    On the short side: a king riding on a horse, conversing with an old man (probably the Anushirvan and Buzurgmihr).


    Court of Ardashir
    And portraits of brave heros
    بارگاه اردشیر
    و تصویر پهلوانان دلیر

    Assembly of Alexander
    And princes
    مجلس اسکندر
    وشاه زادگان

    Depiction of the court of Hurmuz
    And renowned heros
    تصویر بارگاه هرمز
    و پهلوانان نامدار


    Work of the humblest Muhammad Kazim
    In the year 1296
    رقم کمترین محمد کاظم
    بتاریخ سنه ۱۲۹۶


    The outer faces of the drawer are decorated with scenes illustrating the miracles of famous mystics and dervishes throughout the ages. These alternate with smaller scenes depicting pairs of young and old dervishes or pondering dervishes. The inner side of the drawer is decorated with flowers and six portraits, but bears no inscription.

    Disciples of Bayazid stabbing
    And wounding themselves
    زخم زدن مریدان بایزید
    و مجروح کردن خود را

    Prayers of Bayazid
    With disciples on the banks of the Tigris River
    مناجات کردن بایزید
    با مریدان در کنار دجله

    Ibrahim Adham shaving his head
    and the arrival of his mother
    سرتراشیدن ابراهیم
    ادهم و آمدن مادرش

    Shams of Tabriz throws
    Rumi’s books in water
    افکندن شمس تبریزی
    کتابهای مولوی را در آب

    Depiction of Shaykh Baha’i and Mir [Findiriski]
    and the taming of the lion
    تصویر شیخ بهایی و میر
    و رام شدن شیر


    Depiction of Shaykh Abu’l-Hasan
    Kharaqani and riding a lion
    تصویر شیخ ابوالحسن
    خرقانی و سوار شدن شیر

    Depiction of Sultan Ibrahim [Adham]
    and meeting his mother
    تصویر سلطان ابراهیم
    و ملاقات مادر او

    Ibrahim Adham
    انداختن ابراهیم ادهم ...
Ezzat-Malek Soudavar, Geneva, Switzerland (by 2014), by descent; to her son Abolala Soudavar, Houston, Texas (2014), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2014.

Ezzat-Malek Soudavar (1913-2014) formed this collection over a period of sixty years. She purchased the works of art on the international art market.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of A. Soudavar in memory of his mother Ezzat-Malek Soudavar
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
The Harvard Art Museums encourage the use of images found on this website for personal, noncommercial use, including educational and scholarly purposes. To request a higher resolution file of this image, please submit an online request.
Cover and sliding compartment with rounded ends. The top is decorated in horizontal format. The pen box is covered inside and out with small scale figural scenes in panels, accompanied by Persian inscriptions in cartouches. On the exterior, elaborate gold scrolls separate images of temporal rulers. On the top in the central panel is Nasir al-Din Shah (r. 1848-96) with his sons Mas`ud Mirza (Zill al-Sultan) and Kamran Mirza (Na’ib al-Saltana and the future Muzaffar al-Din Shah). Other courtiers are depicted to the right of the king, including the prime minister and the comptroller general. The exterior also depicts legendary and historical rulers and their courts, including Faridun, Manuchihr, Anushirvan, Iskandar, Ardashir, and Dara.
Painted on the interior (on the outer walls of the sliding compartment) in slightly recessed panels are scenes with leaders of the spiritual world. These scenes are drawn from Farid al-Din `Attar’s Tadkhkirat al-Awlia (Memoirs of the Saints) and Haji Bektas Veli's Maqalat (Conversations) and include: Mir Findiriski, Shaykh Baha’i, and the escaped lion; Shams Tabrizi casting Mawlana’s book into the water; Shaykh Bayazid Bistami praying by the Tigris; Shaykh Bayazid being struck by disciples; Shaykh Abu’l-Hasan Kharraqani riding a lion with snakes; Ibrahim ibn Adham returning to his mother’s embrace; and the fish returning his mother’s pins to Ibrahim ibn Adham. The inner walls of the sliding compartment area decorated with flowers and male portrait busts.
Publication History

Massumeh Farhad and Mary McWilliams, ed., A Collector’s Passion: Ezzat-Malek Soudavar and Persian Lacquer, Harvard Art Museums and Freer/Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution (Cambridge, MA/Washington, D.C., 2017), pp. 40-41, figs. 2-3; pp. 42, 44-45; fig. 11b; p. 138, cat. 118

David Roxburgh, ed., An Album of Artists' Drawings from Qajar Iran, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2017), p. 64, fig. 9, detail; p. 99

David Roxburgh and Mary McWilliams, ed., Technologies of the Image: Art in 19th-Century Iran, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2017), p. 27, fig. 2; pp. 66-67, fig. 11; pp. 156-157, cat. 72

Exhibition History

32Q: 3620 University Study Gallery, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/31/2019 - 01/08/2020

Technologies of the Image: Art in 19th-Century Iran, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/26/2017 - 01/07/2018

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at