Tuesday 12 September, 2017

Grant for the Wallace Collection's Jewelled Dagger

The Wardens of the Goldsmiths’ Company have given a grant to the Wallace Collection for a new showcase to house one of the most precious items in the Collection - a 17th century jewelled dagger from Northern India, made for the Mughal Emperor.

The hilt of pure gold is closely set with table diamonds, rubies and emeralds, in a manner characteristic of the Mughal Court workshops during the first decades of the seventeenth century.

You can see the newly installed dagger in the Oriental Armoury Room at the Wallace Collection.

About the Dagger

Dagger (chilanum or khanjar): Gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, chrysoberyl cat’s eyes, steel (Northern India, c. 1615-20)

Scabbard: Gold, enamel, wood, silk-velvet (Northern India, c. 1650)

In October 1617 Prince Khurram (1592-1666), son of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, returned to his father’s court in triumph after a successful military campaign in south central India. As a reward, the Prince was given the title Shah Jahan, and lavished with gifts, including a jewelled dagger.

This astonishing work of art, one of the great treasures of the Wallace Collection, was made for the Mughal Emperor around the time of the Prince’s renaming. Its solid gold hilt is fabulously decorated  with nearly two thousand precious stones. Between each one the hilt has been painstakingly carved with minute petals or palmettes. The ruby-whiskered lion on the back of the guard snarls to reveal a mouthful of diamond teeth.

The design of the hilt is unusual, with the knuckle-guard joining the forward arm of the pommel and terminating in the head of a duck, perched on top of the pommel. More often knuckle-guards of this type do not meet the pommel, and end in the head of a horse, snake, lion or other more fearsome creature. The dagger shown in the portrait of Shah Jahan as a young man (right) is also made in the same way however, with a tiny duck’s head peeking out from below the Prince’s right wrist.      

The scabbard, though very fine, is not of the same quality. It appears to be a later replacement, decorated in a different style.

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