Lacquer painting was an important luxury art in Safavid and Qajar Persia and Mughal India. As with many of the Mughal decorative arts, very few early examples now survive. This painted and lacquered scrutore, or small portable writing cabinet, is one of only two known examples of its type.
The four sides of the cabinet are decorated with spirited scenes of noblemen in Mughal dress on caparisoned horses, hunting various wild beasts, including deer, lion, tiger, fox and crane. The figures are finely painted in a restricted earthly palette, generously heightened with gold, which is also used profusely on the surrounding large and exuberantly burgeoning shrubs and trees, creating dramatic contrasts with the black background. The top has been restored and weakly repainted in a more Persianate style, probably in the 19th century.
Drop-front caskets of this kind probably first appeared in Germany after the middle of the 16th century and soon became popular in Italy, the Iberian peninsula and elsewhere. The commonest Indian type of scrutore is teak-veneered with ivory inlay; examples in other techniques are much rarer.
Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987), no. 99 on pp. 88-89, pl. 23 (colour) & p. 89
Digby, S., ‘The Mother-of-Pearl Overlaid Furniture of Gujarat: The Holdings of the Victoria & Albert Museum’, R. Skelton et al., Facets of Indian Art: A Symposium held at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1986), p. 215, fig. 11
Michell, George, and Mark Zebrowski, Architecture and Art of the Deccan Sultanates, New Cambridge History of India, 1: The Mughals and their Contemporaries, 7 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 147-148, fig. 109
Zebrowski, M., ‘Indian Lacquerwork and the Antecedents of the Qajar Style’, William Watson, ed., Lacquerwork in Asia and Beyond: A Colloquy Held 22-24 June 1981, Colloquies on Art & Archaeology in Asia, 11 (London: University of London, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, 1982), cat. pp. 334-335, pl. 1
London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 21 April-22 August 1982, The Indian Heritage: Court Life and Arts under Mughal Rule, Robert Skelton, ed. (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982), no. 544 on. p. 161, illus. p. 161 fig. 544
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