An Extremely Rare And Fine Ottoman Mother of Pearl, Tortoiseshell, Ivory, Stained Ivory, White Metal And Ebony Overlaid On Wood Scribes Box, With Polychromed Interior & Exterior Bottom Base, Turkey, Circa 17th Century.

Calligraphy was highly valued by the Ottomans. The instruments used in this art were also of great importance. Thus, calligrapher boxes and scribe boxes were finely made with intricate and elaborate decorations meticulously carried out by fine artists whose work represented artistic expression as well as religious devotion. Their work involved copying the Qu’ran or creating elegant calligraphy that had a great visual appeal that added tremendous value to their work.

Our present lot belongs to a similar group of Ottoman scribes boxes that were made in the 17th and 18th century in Turkey. It is of a rectangular form standing on four short legs. The wooden panels were decorated and veneered with a layer of a combination of a classical Ottoman marquetry work and overlaid materials. These materials such as tortoiseshell, ivory, bone, horn, mother-of-pearl, ebony, white metal and wood were either available locally or imported. The Ottoman designs used in wood decoration were unique and were a trademark of classical Ottoman furniture work in general. Sophisticated designs such as medallions, cartouches, calligraphy and beautiful floral designs were characteristic of 16, 17 and 18th Century designs whereas geometric designs were more prominent of the works of the 19th century onwards. Thus, the designs used were preliminarily complex, but became increasingly less complicated with the passage of time with a clear tendency towards geometric designs. Tortoiseshell was gilded on the backside to achieve a beautiful reflection of light in the transparent parts of the tortoiseshell. This was a distinguishing feature of early designs. These designs were used in decorating various Ottoman furniture and wooden surfaces such as doors, boxes, cabinets, etc.

The centre of the sliding lid is elaborately decorated with two beautiful mother of pearl and tortoise shell medallions. Surrounding these two medallions is a frame decorated with alternating tortoiseshell and mother of pearl cartouches. Medallion decoration was a distinguishing feature of other Ottoman decorations in important manuscripts, holly Qurans, Iznik, etc. The sides are decorated with beautiful alternating tortoise palmette and lit candlesticks-like motifs outlined by an alternating ivory and ebony beading decoration inside parallel lines of ivory, white metal and wood lines. The box interior and the exterior base are painted with red polychrome to enhance the visual appeal of this magnificent lot.

For other extinguished ottoman furniture that have the same materials and decoration are the doors of the famous Baghdad pavilion at Topkapi Palace and museum in Istanbul, commissioned by Murad IV and completed in 1640 during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim.

For other similar examples, please see Traces of the Calligrapher, Islamic Calligraphy in Practice, C. 1600 -1900, Mary McWilliams and David J. Roxburgh, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, USA, fig.30-34, p.49-51. Please note the great similarity in decoration between the item in fig.33 and our lot.

See also Antika Ansiklopedisi, Antik Palace, Antik A.S., Kultur Yayinlari, Istanbul, Turkey, p.361 &p.366.

See also: Sotheby’s, Arts of the Islamic World, London, 7th October 2009, please see sold lot no.195, p.124-125.



Condition: Excellent, Minor old repair. Pen compartment, inkwell and sand shaker (or powder container) are missing.
Dimensions: 34.5 cm width.
15 cm height.
11 cm depth.
  • Identification Number: 146


An Extremely Rare And Fine Ottoman Mother of Pearl, Tortoiseshell, Ivory, Stained Ivory, White Metal And Ebony Overlaid On Wood Scribes Box, With Polychromed Interior & Exterior Bottom Base, Turkey, Circa 17th Century.

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