Pen Case with Scenes from the Haft Paykar Signed by Muhammad Isma’il Isfahani (1814–92)
Iran, 19th century

This pen case is decorated with scenes from the Haft paykar (or Seven Images), one of five compositions that make up the Khamsa (Quintet) by the medieval poet Nizami of Ganja (ca. 1141–1209). This work narrates the life of the pre-Islamic Sassanian king Bahram V Gur, who is transformed from a pleasure-seeking prince into a wise and just king guided by law. The central part of the Haft paykar elaborates on a series of visits made by Bahram to the princesses of the seven climes. Each princess relates an edifying story on kingly virtues, followed by the pleasures of feasting and love, as depicted here. In the central oval on the top of this pen case are images of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus, an atypical addition to this allegorical epic.

Papier-mâché, with painted and lacquered decoration 67.3, acquired by Henry Walters

When night raised up its standard dark,
And rent the veil of the sun’s vault,
The king a pleasant tale did seek
from that fair maid with apple cheeks.
—The Haft paykar (Seven Images) by Nizami of Ganja, 35:7–8
(Translated by J. S. Meisami)