Thursday, June 30, 2016

The First Indian Mehndi Design... Part Two.

One year ago, I wrote a blog post exploring an Indian Mughal painting from Rajasthan, ca. 1740, showing a woman with a simple dot design on her palm. In that post I suggested that this was “the oldest visual depiction of henna designs in Indian art”... yet. Of course, the wonderful thing about academic research is that as your knowledge grows, you can return and revise your earlier theories. I now believe that the painting I featured there is not in fact the oldest visual depiction of a henna design in Indian art, and that we can now push the date back yet another century. I am aware of how dreadfully remiss I've been in posting henna blogs, so I've written up a short post featuring this object and hopefully it will be followed by a few others that have been queued for months... 

Scribal tools and pen cases, 18th century Turkey, in the
Aga Khan Museum.
The object in question is not a painting, but a decorated pen-case, known in Persian as a qalamdan. The qalamdan was sometimes made of metal and sometimes out of wood or papier mâché, and decorated with inlay, gold, watercolour, or lacquer. 

They were a popular object among the educated and cultured classes of Persian and Indian society, representing the owner’s appreciation of literature and the arts and suggesting (correctly or not) that the owner was a writer, poet, or artist themselves.

This particular qalamdan, currently in the Freer Gallery of Art (F1959.5) in Washington D.C., is made of papier mâché with watercolour paintings that have been glued on top.