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Simon Ray: Indian & Islamic Works of Art

India (Mughal), late 17th century
Length of dagger: 39.5 cm
Length of hilt: 13.5 cm
Width of hilt: 10.2 cm

A finely carved jade dagger (khanjar) with a steel blade. The hilt of fine mottled creamy white jade is superbly carved in the form of a horse’s head, with flaring nostrils, pointed ears, rounded cheeks, slightly open mouth revealing teeth, and the mane swept as if by the wind to one side. The expressive features and fine carving, together with the weight and proportions of the dagger, convey admirably the power and vitality of the aristocratic animal.

The white jade has been carefully chosen and carved with skill. On the side with the mane, the jade darkens with ochre veining to the neck and mane of the horse. The mane is beautifully carved so that the wavy tresses of hair overlap in two layers.

The modelling of the face reveals the underlying structure of bone and muscles beneath the skin, bringing the horse alive before our very eyes. The sprung tension to the mouth is outlined by the taut skin on either side, while the strength of the jaw is brilliantly conveyed. The generous proportions of the dagger contribute much to its impact, that together with the delicacy of the details create an impression at once robust yet refined.

The grip of the hilt is carved with grooves for the hand, which according to Stuart Cary Welch indicate a date in the second half of the seventeenth century as groves are not found in the horse head khanjars of the Shah Jahan period. The base of the hilt is carved with stylised flower, perhaps an iris, with curling petals and cusped leaves. Leaves also curl into the quillons of each side.

Spink & Son, London

Indian and Islamic Works of Art, Spink, 1992, p. 36 and 37, cat. no. 25.

all text & images © Simon Ray

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