Ram's Head Shamshir
Place of Origin: Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (North-Eastern India)
Date: 19th Century
The present shamshir is an elegant and refined example of the artworks produced at Lucknow. The cross-guard of the silver hilt is engraved and applied over its front to depict a cobalt-blue poppy flower at its centre surrounded by a swirl of bristling emerald-green leaves. A bird with cherry-red chest and recurved neck spreads its wings atop the central flower, two smaller birds issuing from the brush below. The quillons are formed as rams’ heads, the ridges of their spiralling horns coloured bright orange, and the grips – which are made from carved and faceted rock crystal – exhibit a translucent marble-like colour and are secured to the tang with small pins. A splendid pommel recreates the rams’ heads at the quillons in larger form, the horns given an even greater sense of texture through fine engraving and the animal’s silver smile glowing brightly on a ground of deep blue enamelling.
The long and curving shamshir blade is forged from wootz steel, the original waves of the metal’s patterning still visible over the surface. A modern scabbard of tooled black leather, attached with shell-shaped brackets for suspension, accompanies the sword.
Enamelling was introduced to the Indian subcontinent in the late sixteenth century, as Mughal court craftsmen were taught by European enamellers based in Portuguese Goa. In this process, “coloured glass is fused to metal at very high temperatures, to create a decorative and hardwearing outer layer.” Lucknow was a centre for the production of pieces such as this sword, the most remarkable feature of the work being the “brilliant blue and green champlevé and basse-taille enamelling” that adorned the silver.
A fine enamelled shamshir from Lucknow was published by Runjeet Singh in Arms, Armour & Works of Art – London 2019 (Cat. No. 16). Another sword preserved at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession Number 36.25.1302a, b) shows a similar style in its decoration, though we do not know of an example with rock crystal grips.
 Stephen Markel with Tushara Bindu Gude, India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow (published by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art & DelMonico Books, Los Angeles, 2010), p. 205.