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Date: Mid-17th Century

Overall Length: 360mm (14 ¼ Inches)

Reference: 336

Status: Sold

Full Description:

Where the previous dagger in this exhibition portrays the head of a horse, the present example instead depicts that of a graceful nilgai antelope carved out of nephrite jade that exhibits a deep sea-green colour. The nilgai is endemic to the Indian subcontinent and is the largest Asian antelope, its name nilgai literally translating to “blue bull” on account of the animal’s bluish-grey coat. A painting (Acc. No. GLAHA_43821)[1] by George Stubbs, simply titled “The Nilgai”, depicts the animal against a romanticist backdrop of hazy clouds and detailed foliage, and is preserved in the Hunterian Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow.

The contours of the face, eyes and ears are all carved in expert detail, and the eyes are inset with rubies on gold foil using the kundun technique, drawing our attention to the animal’s vigilant gaze. The collar and lobed quillons are decorated in gold koftgari with four-petalled flowerheads between scrolling foliage.

The recurved steel blade is double-edged and exhibits a watered pattern, its surface cut with a medial ridge and broad fullers on either side. The 19th-century scabbard comprises a wooden core covered with dark purple velvet, a thin line of red and silver tape lining the seam on the scabbard’s reverse face. The scabbard is further fitted with a chape and locket of solid gold (the latter also attached with a small loop for suspension), each pierced and fretted to depict arcades of leaves with stylised lotus buds at their centres.

As explained in the cataloguing of the horse-head dagger, such pieces as this were reserved for important individuals in the Mughal courts. An example similar to our own at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession Number 1985.58a, b) is confidently attributed to the imperial workshops of the time,[2] and another, formerly in the collection of Stuart Cary Welch was recently sold at Christie’s.[3] And indeed, in Welch’s important text on the Padshah-nama at Windsor Castle, a miniature entitled ‘Shah Jahan receiving an embassy of Europeans’ (folio 116 verso), shows the emperor’s sons, Dara Shikoh and Shah Shuja, wearing daggers with nilgai hilts.[4]


Private collection, USA


[3] Christie’s, Lot 190 (“A DEER-HEADED JADE-HILTED DAGGER”), Maharajas & Mughal Significance (Sale 17464), New York, 19th June 2019.

[4] Stuart Cary Welch, India: Art and Culture 1300-1900, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985, pp. 56-57.


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