Lot 80. A serpentine and rock-crystal hilted dagger, North India, probably Helps 19th century; blade India or Iran, dated AH 1198 / 1783-84 AD; 18 ¾ ins. (47.5 cm.) long; 2 ½ ins. (6.5 cm.) wide. Estimate USD 60,000 - USD 80,000. Price realised USD 125,000. © Christie's Images Ltd 2019
Watered-steel blade, rain guard signed and dated.
Literature: Hales 2013, p.27, no.67.
Exhibited: Grand Palais, Paris 2017, p.131, no.101
The Doge’s Palace, Venice 2017, p.156, no.102
The Palace Museum, Beijing 2018, p.180, no.106
de Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco 2018, p. 92, no. 34.
Note: This elegant dagger hilt, along with a similarly decorated sword (Lot 81) and a flywhisk (Lot 82) in this sale, belongs to a very small group of objects which were probably produced in the same workshop. The sophisticated craftsmanship suggests an attribution to an imperial atelier. This rare combination of two different hardstones, rock crystal set into jade, with each rock crystal panel foiled and carved on the inside creates a dazzling pearl-like effect (Beijing 2018, p.181). The decoration is reminiscent of the Sheesh Mahal or Aina Mahal, ‘Hall of Mirrors’, a feature in several 17th and 18th century Mughal and Rajput buildings in north and western India. These were pleasure pavilions intricately decorated with thousands of small mirrors, glass tiles and pietra dura mosaics.
The hilt is set with an impressive blade decorated with gold koftgari overlay and pierced with three channels containing several steel balls. Robert Hales notes that blades with free running steel balls or with captive pearls are known from the 16th century onwards. They are often referred to as ‘the tears of Allah’ or ‘the tears of the afflicted’ (Hales 2013, p.27). The proportions of the carving and the use of shallow relief of this form finds comparison with Safavid Iranian blades.
There is a comparable 18th century dagger hilt in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (IS.02562) with very similar decoration which is probably from the same centre of production. Sophie Makariou compares the decoration with a jade mirror-back or screen in the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris and with a huqqa base in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha (Paris 2017, p.130).