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Late 18th c.


Steel, gold inlay


2.5 x 20.2 cm


Gift of Mrs. Cromwell Bush, inv. 1983(1922).Eb.1a-b


Archeology and World Cultures

The importance of writing in the Muslim world is witnessed by not only the formal beauty of the myriad scripts but also the careful craftsmanship accorded to the tools and objects related to the arts of calligraphy and bookbinding. The best known of these implements is the penbox, because of its widespread use among craftsmen, civil servants, scholars, poets and the educated class in general. Over the centuries, a range of materials were used to make them, from wood inlaid with tortoiseshell to papier-mâché and the preferred traditional technique of metal inlay, seen in this 18th- century penbox in steel and gold from India. Its narrow oblong shape illustrates the characteristic form of penboxes from the medieval period well into the modern period, although the cover here is of the sliding variety rather than the more typical hinged one. The artifact’s decoration and calligraphy testify to the continued influence of Persia on Indo-Islamic art.

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