Nobleman's writing box
Place of Origin: West Java (Cirebon?), Indonesia
Date: 19th Century
Overall: 380 x 175 x 180 mm (14.96 x 6.88 x 7.08 inches)
A carved wooden writing box from West Java, probably the Sultanate of Ciberon. Of rectangular form, it sits on its own integral stepped base, and has three drawers to one end which are well concealed by the carving, which seamlessly covers the front of the drawers. Decorated in cinnabar red lacquer, the four side-faces are profusely carved with scrolling clouds, and each has a four-sided cartouche filled with calligraphy in a mix of Arabic and Javanese languages.
The inscriptions describe the traditional story of archangel Gabriel (jibrāʾīl), delivering a revelation to 125,000 prophets. It also contains an important dictionary (or probably an encyclopaedic work) including almanacks of the Arab and Persian/non-Arab languages (probably Javanese too). The calligraphy has been deciphered as follow, and is a work in progress:
Side 1 – Agung Aziz/Kanjeng p. al-ʿaẓīm/[probably a proper name]/zaman Walanda
(Great and noble Prince/…../during the Dutch [colonial] period)
Side 2 – Hādhā makān al-Muʿjam (min) yaday al-shaykh faqir/al-ḥākim al-shāfī fī balad al-akbar shaqī (?) tārīkh al-ʿarabī wa-l-ʿajamī – huwa al-nabī ḥaram/ghaniyyun rabbī kashafanī Allāhu fa-akhadza faḍāʾila kalimahu
(This is a place [or repository] of the dictionary from the poor, wise Shaykh in the great country [containing] the Arabic and non-Arabic almanack – He is the noble Prophet/Oh My Lord the Almighty, God revealed me, so he took the virtues of His word)
Side 3 – bayna (?) ajmal al-ghulām - Seribu (?) ke-wulan Jumād al-ākhir tahun ālāf al-jibrāʾīl (?) …..
(… the best child - [on the month of] Jumād al-ākhir in the year one thousand …… [of Hijri]….)
Side 4 -- Nuzūl jibrāʾīl ʿalā al-anbiyāʾ ʿalayhim al-salām alfay ʿishrūna wa khamsu miʾah/ʿishruna khamsa ʿashar miʾah alfān …….. (the Angel Gabriel delivered [divine revelation] to 125,000 prophets……)
There is a small piece missing from the corner of one of the drawer fronts, and some general wear, but otherwise it is a handsome and rare object, worthy of further research.