Tareq Rajab Museum

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Lacquer in the TSR Museum

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    There is a general misconception, that Islamic lacquer owes its origin to the Far East and that it was introduced only towards the late 16th or early 17th century. Archaeological evidence, however, revealed, that lacquer was known and practised in the Islamic world well before that time and furthermore, that it was an entirely different technique, not related to that of the Far East. Its roots should be sought in Ancient Egypt and in Byzantine art. While in the Far East (i.e. in Chinese and Japanese arts) lacquer was used as a painting medium, in the Islamic world, however, painting was never carried out in lacquer, instead the surface was first painted and then coated with a transparent lacquered or varnished layer. In more recent times lacquer, or lacquered decoration, became a popular media in Iran, Turkey, Syria and India where it survives until the present day. The Tareq Rajab Museum has some forty pieces of different types of lacquerwork in its collection, originating from Iran, India, Turkey and Egypt.

    Excavations in Egypt at Fustat and Qusayr al-Qadim and in several places in Iran, brought to light early lacquered vessels. An early example in the Museum's collection is the wooden box which was carved out of a palm trunk and was then carved, painted and finally lacquered (no. 1, LQR0009TSR). Similar boxes were excavated at Qusayr al-Qadim and they were dating from the Mamluk period, i.e. late 14th and early 15th century. The Museum's box dates from the same period. Another early and rare example is the carved, painted and lacquered Qur'an stand or rahla which may be dated to the 14th or early 15th century (no.2, LQR0018TSR). It was most likely made in Turkey. In the Maulana Museum at Konya there is a similar carved and lacquered rahla which bears the date of 677AH/AD1278. The lacquered canteen most likely originates from India and may be ascribed to the 18th century (no. 3, LQR0012TSR). The large cupboard in the centre of the cabinet comes from Syria and also dates from the 18th century (no. 4, LQR0013TSR). The gun-powder holders (nos.5 and 6, LQR0004TSR and LQR0005TSR) were made of leather, carved, painted and lacquered. They are most likely of Indian origin. One of them (no. 6) bears the date of 1277AH/AD1860. The Indian mirror case bears the signature of a famous artist, Ali Qali and the date: 1105AH/AD1693(no.7, LQR0017TSR). Another mirror case of Iranian provenance successfully combines Islamic and Christian religious scenes, was the work of another famous artist, Najaf, who was active during the middle of the 19th century (no.8, LQR0003TSR). There are two other mirror cases, which are of the same period (nos.9 - 10, LQR0006TSR and LQR0010TSR).

    One of the most popular and widely used lacquered objects were pen-boxes, or qalamdans. Some of these were quite large in size and these were known in Persian as "qalamdan-e bozorg" ("large pen-box"), like no. 11, LQR0002TSR. The smaller ones were made in considerably larger numbers and their decorations may include landscapes, portraits or even battle scenes (nos.12 - 13, LQR0000TSR - LQR0000TSR). The large wooden box depicts various phases of a wedding ceramony (no.14, LQR0015TSR). The brass and steel scale set is also placed in a lacquered wooden box and may be dated to the second half of the 19th century (no.15, LQR0016TSR). The octagonal table is a Kashmiri work and was made during the first part of the 20th century (no.16, LQR0019TSR).
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