The Dagger of a Mughal Prince c.1620
Although nothing of this weapon’s early history is known, its dazzling quality alone tells us that it had to have been made for a prince of the Mughal court in northwest India. It is entirely possible that it was in fact made for either the Emperor Jahangir (1569-1627) or his son Shah Jahan (1592-1666), builder of the Taj Mahal. Indian weapon-art of such excellence is rare in the extreme; only one other comparible dagger is known to exist, in the al Sabah collection in Kuwait.
The hilt of this extraordinary weapon is made of solid gold and is set with tiny diamonds, rubies and emeralds in a style associated with the Mughal court workshops during the first thirty years of the seventeenth century. Immediately above the fine crucible-steel blade, with its ‘watered’ pattern, the projecting lower guard has been worked into the form of a tiger’s head mounted with minute rubies shaped to form the beast’s eyes, nose and whiskers, while natural diamond crystals form its teeth.
The scabbard is unfortunately not original to the dagger, which originally would have been sheathed in a much richer way. The original scabbard would most likely have been decorated to match the hilt, made in gold and covered in finely-cut precious stones using the same designs and techniques. This idea is supported by the al Sabah dagger, which retains its original scabbard.
The terminal of the knuckle-guard of the Wallace Collection dagger has been carved into the form of a duck’s head. In a portrait of the Emperor Shah Jahan by Nadir al-Zaman (Abu'l Hasan) (active c. 1600-28), now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the famous Mughal ruler is shown wearing an almost identical dagger, having a hilt of gold, decorated with rubies, the knuckle-bow terminal being shaped into the form of a duck’s head.
The Oriental Armour in the Wallace Collection was collected by the 4th Marquess of Hertford, mostly in the last decade of his life, between 1860 and 1870. This dagger is known to have been in the collection inherited by his son Sir Richard Wallace in 1870. Wallace displayed his Oriental Armour mounted in dense trophy groupings extending almost to the ceiling, which was itself painted a deep blue and decorated with golden stars.
Thursday 9 and Monday 27 September at 1pm with Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour.
Mughal Arms and the Indian Court Tradition, Robert Elgood, Jewellery Studies, Volume 10, 2004.
© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2010.
Text by Tobias Capwell.
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