A Sword from the Mughal Imperial Court, Muhammad Baqir Mashhadi, Indian, Delhi, c. 1748-53
The artists and craftsmen responsible for many of even the richest objects in the Oriental Armoury of the Wallace Collection are today unknown. Their exact places of origin are also in many cases quite difficult to determine with certainty, as are their original owners. This sword is especially notable therefore, as all three of those key pieces of information have recently been discovered. Although it is unsigned, this sword is of such an unusual and distinctive style that it can be closely associated with other pieces preserved elsewhere in the world, some of which are signed by the Delhi master Muhammad Baqir Mashhadi.
Baqir is the only Mughal-period bladesmith to be so far identified. His name is found on extant shamshirs (sabres), kards (long single-edged knives) at least four shamshir (sabre) blades which also carry the name of their owner and Baqir’s patron, Abul Mansur Mirza Muhammad Muqim Ali Khan, more commonly known as Safdar Jung (c. 1708-1754), ruler of the Kingdom of Oudh in northern India and Wazir of Hundustan from 1748, when he became effective ruler of the entire Mughal Empire under Emperor Ahmad Shah Bahadur (1725-1775). The signing of sword blades was quite rare in India, but it was more common in Persia, and both Safdar Jung and Baqir were Persians. All of Baqir’s signed and dated works were made between 1748 and 1753, the precise dates of the height of Safdar Jung’s power. In 1753 Safdar Jung was dismissed from the imperial court and returned to Oudh. Interestingly, none of Baqir’s signed pieces carry later dates than 1753.
This weapon is of a very distinctive form, apparently unique to Baqir’s workshop, with a light, straight, cut-and-thrust blade made of high-quality crucible steel (wootz), fitted with a narrow crossguard beautifully decorated with gold and enamel of diverse colours. The very fine ‘watered’ pattern on the blade is a testament to Baqir’s skill in the forging of steel. The original scabbard is preserved in excellent condition, painted over its whole surface with scenes from ancient parables similar to Aesop’s Fables.
Wednesday 11 and Tuesday 24 January at 1pm with Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour, in Oriental Armoury.
Augustin, Bernd, ‘Persische Blumen erblühen in Indien: Das Werk des Muhammad Baqir Maschhadi, Klingen- und Goldschmiedekunst in Delhi unter Safdar Jang Bahadur’, Indo-Asiatische Zeitschrift, 13 (2009), pp. 99-121.