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Simon Ray: Indian & Islamic Works of Art

JADE HORSE-HEAD KNIFE
India (Mughal), late 17th/ early 18th century
Length of knife: 21.5 cm
Length of hilt: 8 cm
Width of knife: 1.5 cm

A finely carved jade knife (kard) with a watered steel blade, the   mottled pale celadon green jade carved in the form of a horse’s head, with flaring nostrils, blazing eyes, slightly open mouth and rounded cheeks.  The combed mane is finely incised for detail and swept as if by the wind to the horse’s right. The hilt is unusual in the way the horse seems to race forward with raised head, arched neck and ears pressed backwards, which together with the open mouth and nostrils, beautifully convey the impression of a swift gallop. 

Though the hilt is carved with great delicacy and is diminutive in scale as befits a small personal knife, the features of the horse are powerfully sculpted.  The line of the jaw is strong and the muscles of the face can be seen to ripple under the taut skin of the horse’s head. 

The watered steel blade is inlaid in the koftgari technique with stylised floral sprays within cusped cartouches to either side.  The quality of the work suggests that the blade is slightly earlier than that of the hilt, dating to the second half of the seventeenth century, while the hilt dates to the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century.  The proportions of blade and hilt are beautifully balanced to form a knife that affords pleasure to both the eye and the hand.  Small knives such as this were sometimes housed in the sheath of larger knives or weapons.
all text & images Simon Ray: Indian & Islamic Works of Art

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