09 avril 2016

A fine and rare Mughal jade-hilted horse head dagger with flaming pearls, India, 17th century

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Lot 144. A fine and rare Mughal jade-hilted horse head dagger with flaming pearls, India, 17th century. Estimate 60,000 — 80,000 GBP (76,026 - 101,368 EUR). Photo Sotheby's.

the curved double-edged watered-steel blade with central ridge and chiselling at the forte, the hilt of pale green stone with grey inclusions, the pommel expressively rendered in the shape of a whinnying horse's head, the mane descending to one side, with intricately carved cloudbands and flaming pearls along the grip and quillons - 34.5cm.

LiteratureR. Hales, Islamic and Oriental Arms and Armour: A Lifetime's Passion, London, 2013, p.37, no.85. 

NoteThe intricacy of carving on this jade-hilt is of the highest quality, testifying to the artistic sensibilities of Indian craftsmen and the imagination of the Mughal court. The Indian tradition of working blocks of hardstone into beautiful, elegant and functional objects dates back to pre-Islamic times, but became particularly popular during the reign of the Mughals. The Emperor Jahangir (r.1605-27) is said to have brought back numerous Timurid worked jade pieces from Persia which in turn inspired local craftsmen and launched the desire for jade as a medium. The present jade-hilt features unusual 'flaming pearl' motifs originating in Chinese iconography, known as one of the 'Eight Precious Objects' associated with the dragon who is typically shown in dynamic pursuit of the elusive pearl, symbol of knowledge, power and good fortune. Although this symbol is often found in miniature painting and luxury textiles, it is extremely rare in carved jade.

During Jahangir’s reign, edged weapons were no longer used exclusively for warfare but became regarded as works of art in their own rights and were decorated with costly materials such as enamels, precious metals and stones; transforming them into symbols of wealth and power. Mughal princes, nobles and high officials were honoured regularly by the emperor with jewelled daggers, which were worn as luxury accessories. Daggers with animal hilts on the other hand were reserved for the use of princes, such as Dara Shikoh and Shah Shuja (Beach and Koch 1997, p.57, folio 116 verso), as well as some highly regarded senior dignitaries (ibid., folio 71 recto). Whilst the number of daggers with animal hilts increased during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these continued to function as indicators of the highest rank and position at court (Welch 1985, pp.257-8).

In the present example, each detail portraying the horse is treated with the utmost sensitivity, whilst the powerfully expressive features of the face invite comparison with the great contemporary animal artist Mansur.

Sotheby's. Arts of the Islamic World, London, 20 Apr 2016, 10:30 AM

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