HORSE-HEAD JADE DAGGER
Place of Origin: MUGHAL DOMINIONS, INDIA
Date: 17th Century
Overall Length: 380mm
This finely crafted blue-grey jade dagger (khanjar) is most striking for its hilt, which has been carefully carved to depict the head of a horse with a dynamic expression: the eyes are narrow and nostrils flared; its open mouth bares closely carved rows of teeth; the jaw arches sharply so as to convey a face taut with determination; and the ears are pinned back – a final and subtle sign of the horse’s resolve. Farther down, on one face of the hilt, the horse’s mane has been detailed with gently undulating lines, the reverse face left clear and exhibiting the stone’s polished texture. The craftsman’s genius can most readily be observed in the hilt’s persuasive colour contrast: the white part of the jade is carved to depict the horse’s face, whilst the mane and neck exhibit the stone’s darker hues of bluish-grey. The jade’s natural inclusions also intimate the sinews and muscles on the neck of this powerful animal, and if not intentional, the darker complexion of the nose is a wonderful coincidence. Above the lobed quillons of the hilt rests a central iris flower in bloom, below which curving foliage spreads out horizontally.
The watered blade has been skilfully cut, three central ridges recurving together before meeting to form a gently lobed square section, the central ridge continuing into the blade’s armour-piercing tip.
Two examples similar to the present dagger are preserved in the Al-Sabah collection, Kuwait, Cat Nos. 66 and 73, the former especially relevant as a comparison for the iris flower motif that unfurls just above the quillons. In his study of the Windsor Padshah-nama, Stuart Cary Welch observes that in a darbar scene by Balchand, Dara-Shikoh (eldest son of Shah Jahan) is portrayed wearing a horse-hilted dagger (folio 72v) and comments that during the reign of Shah Jahan the wearing of animal-hilted daggers was exceedingly rare.
Private European collection
 Salam Kaoukji, Precious Indian Weapons and other Princely Accoutrements: the Al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait, Thames & Hudson, 2017, pp. 194-195; 206-207.
 Stuart Cary Welch, India: Art and Culture 1300-1900, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986, pp. 257-258.