The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Treasure of the Month - October 2013

The Claude Martin Mughal Dagger, c.1605-1625

This Mughal dagger is one of the most finely crafted of all the Oriental objects in the Wallace Collection. The rock crystal hilt is sumptuously embellished with birds, flowers and buds picked out in cabochon Burmese rubies. The drooped cross-guard terminates in miniature tigers’ heads with carved ruby nostrils and onyx eyes - one retains its carved ruby tongue. The dagger was made in the first quarter of the 17th century during the rule of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir (1605–1627). Daggers of this type first appear frequently in Mughal miniature paintings from the beginning of his reign and are depicted most often being worn by the emperor himself or by prominent members of his court. Our dagger, however, is unusually rich, as most others of this type had more modest bone or ivory hilts. Its opulence is matched by only a few surviving examples.  The style remained popular well into the reign of Jahangir’s son Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal.

One of the most interesting features of this dagger lies not in its early history but in one of its later owners. When the dagger received conservation treatment in the 1980s, David Edge, our current Armourer and Head of Conservation, discovered a scratch on one of the side panels in the rock crystal hilt. On closer inspection under high magnification it was revealed that the ‘scratch’ was actually a signature that had been scored on the surface, probably with a diamond. The signature was that of Major General Claude Martin (1735–1800) commander of the arsenal at Lucknow.
Martin, born in Lyon, joined the French army and was posted to India. After the fall of Pondicherry he joined the British army and was posted to Oudh where he became acquainted with the Nawab Asaf ad-daula and was later appointed as the commander of the Lucknow Arsenal, despite the fact that as a Frenchman and therefore a foreigner in the British army, Martin would not usually have been allowed to rise past the rank of major. Martin was an adventurer, a soldier and a scientist. He is credited with being the first man to fly a hot air balloon in India, and is the only person of his time known to have operated successfully on himself. Martin was also a lover of architecture and a considerable collector, an amateur artist and a patron of the painters Johan Zoffany and Francesco Renaldi during their visits to India. He also owned a large number of paintings by Mughal-trained artists, and at his death his collection included over 650 Mughal paintings of birds.

His love of art led to his acquiring a large and varied collection. It seems likely that this dagger was either a particularly important gift (possibly even from his firm friend Asaf ad-daula, for whom Martin in turn acquired many objects) or a treasured souvenir of his time in India. However, we can be sure of its significance to him from the fact that he took the time and care to inscribe it delicately with his name.

Gallery Talks
1st and the 29th October at 1pm by Francesca Levey

Further Reading
Blackmore, Howard L., ‘Claude Martin, Major General commander of the Lucknow Arsenal’, in Arms Collecting, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp.3 – 12 (February, 1989)
Llewellyn-Jones, Rosie, A Man of the Enlightenment: The Letters of Claude Martin, 1766-1800, (New Delhi : Permanent Black [in association with] The Embassy of France in India, [2003])
Llewellyn-Jones, Rosie, A Fatal Friendship: The Nawabs, the British and the City of Lucknow, (Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, c1985)
Schimmel, Annemarie, The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture, (London : Reaktion, 2004)
Sharar, Abdul Halim, Lucknow, the last phase of an Oriental culture, (London : Paul Elek, 1975)