Place of Origin: QAJAR EMPIRE (MODERN-DAY IRAN)
Date: 19th Century
Overall Length: 790mm (31 Inches)
Undeniably the most striking feature of this mace is the papier-mâché head of a man looking out somewhat sombrely from within the unfurling jaws of an antlered beast.
An array of six-petalled flowerheads fills a short panel at both the top and bottom of the mace’s shaft, fitted with a basal cap as well as a bulbous moulding that sits beneath the mace-head. A crowned and moustachioed man on horseback is etched on either side of the mace-head’s extraordinary visage – he fires his bow behind him at an animal in retreat. Antlers and ears are attached to the “skull”, the beast’s mouth retaining most of its interior red paint and lined with sharp teeth. Looking out from the centre, then, is the carefully formed papier-mâché face of a man. The face is fully textured: his forehead is painted with thick black eyebrows and protrudes slightly, as do his nose, moustache, and mouth. The reverse of the mace head shows a man holding a pair of crossed clubs with a testimonial inscription below which reads:
al-sultan nadir shah
“The Sultan Nadir Shah”
Qajar maces with heads formed as beasts or demons are well-known. An ox-headed example (Acc. No. 36.25.1882) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is particularly engaging, as it recalls the ancient Iranian hero Bahram Gur’s weapon as described in the Shahnama (an epic poem by Firdausi), and well reflects the revived Qajar interest in ancient Iranian imagery. It may be that the present example refers also to one of several Iranian myths. A late 16th-century copy (Inv. No. Or 4615) of the Dārābnāmah at the British Library describes and in a folio depicts the story of the hero Bahman, who was swallowed by a dragon. Another more chilling story is shown in a folio (Acc. No. 1974.290.36) from a copy of the Shahnama and tells of the hero Bahram Gur, who upon slaying a dragon and cutting it open found a dead young man within its belly.
In any case, the present example appears to be unique – no other mace known exhibits the face of a papier-mâché man.
UK art market