Deccan Pen Box and Ink Well

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Size (WxDxH): 11 x 3.7 x 7 inches
Medium: Brass
Origin: North Karnataka / Andhra Pradesh


This is a brass, cast and repousse, Deccan or Mughal writing box with a pen box (kalamdan) made up of two tubular pen cases, and an ink well (roshandani). The two pen cases are joined by an openwork panel and would each have held a traditional reed pen. The lid that would have held the pens in place is missing. The inkwell has a typically ‘onion’ domed lid, reminiscent of the domes of Central Asian and Mughal architecture. This is then topped with a lotus bud finial, underpinned by two rings of lotus petals. The lotus representation is again repeated beneath the dome, before the lid ends in a band of decorative floral scroll with foliage. The body of the ink well is plainly cast but for a further band of the same engraved floral scroll around its base. Beneath the lid is a small, round, hinged lid, itself surrounded further by lotus petals, which provides access to the ink inside. The ink well is affixed towards one end of the pen cases. Similar writing boxes can be found in the British Museum, and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
“Writing boxes were used throughout the Islamic world, their form varying considerably between Persia where they were frequently made of lacquered or painted wood or papier mâché as well as metal, the Ottoman lands where silver was a more common medium and Mughal and British India. In the early Mughal period, remarkably ornate, jewel encrusted, gold writing boxes were a feature of courtly life. Whilst this form of pen box was relatively early...brass later became the more popular medium, though bronze and silver are also known. Such writing boxes were used by scribes, merchants and similar professions, and were sometimes given as gifts within aristocratic and well-to-do families at the time of the recipients’ first writing lessons and were also known to have been used by some European employees of the East India Company. Characteristic of many Mughal examples is a remarkable sense of architectural proportion.” - source, Alexander Merchant Art.