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A magnificent Deccani ruby-set dagger with gilt-copper zoomorphic hilt, India, second half 16th century
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About the object

A magnificent Deccani ruby-set dagger with gilt-copper zoomorphic hilt, India, second half 16th century, With a curved steel blade, each face with six grooves converging below the tip, the hilt a narrow ringed grip of loosely baluster form with broad quillons in the form of down-turned scrolls, the forte composed of an openwork design of interlacing strapwork with chased beading emanating from a quatrefoil motif and stylised lotus and with scrolling foliate terminals, the hilt and pommel of cast openwork with chased detailing in a composition of fantastical and naturalistic beasts interweaving and attacking one another, the eyes and other elements set with rubies, plain cloth-covered wood scabbard and modern metal display mount\nLength: 39.6cm. (15 5/8 in.)
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notes

This is a most powerful and exuberant display of royal grandeur and visionary craftsmanship. The sculptural strength is skillfully balanced with exquisite detailing.  An extraordinary range of artistic stratagem and motifs are unified into one object that encapsulates, in its dynamism and decorative range, the epitome of Deccani Sultanate art.

This form of dagger is known from a miniature of Sultan Ali Adil Shah I of Bijapur (r.1557-79), dating to c.1605, now in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington (Michell and Zebrowski 1999, p.232, fig.170). The only closely comparable dagger is in the David Collection, Copenhagen (ibid., p.231, fig.169). Another related piece but with damascened, or koftgari, decoration is also in the David Collection (Copenhagen 1982, p.142-3, no.100). The present example (formerly belonging to Howard Ricketts, London) is referred to by Zebrowski in his discussion of the group (ibid., p.232).

The beasts portrayed on the hilt are composed as follows: a parrot stands next to a tiger attacking a deer; the tiger is being bitten on its back by a serpentine dragon whose tail coils around the grip forming a ring around it; a demonic beast with openwork body and sectional, almost baroque, scroll tail is impaled by the dragon's tail. This combines imagery of hunting prevalent in Islamic courtly art with bestial imagery more familiar in an Indian context. This confluence parallels developments in contemporary painting, notably in Golconda, and all of these animals can be found in chased decoration of metalwork of this period (Zebrowski 1983, p.172, no.137, and Zebrowski 1997, p.353, no.580, respectively). It should also be remembered that this interaction reflected contemporary political and social events. Perhaps of greatest significance, during the reign of Ali Adil Shah I (1557-79), the Vijayanagara Empire, the one time ally of the Adil Shahis, was conquered by the confederacy of Bijapur, Bidar, Ahmadnagar and Golconda. In January 1565, they triumphed over their Hindu rival and seized land and booty with Bijapur reputedly benefitting more than most (Michell and Zebrowski 1999, p.13). Not surprisingly, many of these themes also occur in contemporary Goanese works, such as a gold sheath in the Nasser D. Khalili Collection, and the apparently baroque elements in the dagger hilt may be a response to the proximity of this European influence (Carvalho 2010, p.22-23, no.1).

This form of imagery has parallels in architectural decoration of royal patronage in Bijapur in the later 16th century. From this it can be argued that the dagger forms part of a conscious royal style for the reign of Ali Adil Shah I (1557-79) and his successor, Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1580-1627).

Two swords that relate to the dagger but carry simpler compositions give some clue to the subsequent history of this dagger. The swords, one now in the British Museum and the other in the Government Museum, Bikaner, both carry inscriptions mentioning 'Adoni', the Adil Shahi fortress. This fell to the invading Mughals in 1689 with the booty taken to Bikaner where many Deccani treasures remained for some time (Zebrowski 1997, p.102, no.107; and Welch 1985, p.48, no.17).

dimensions

Length: 39.6cm. (15 5/8 in.)

provenance

Howard Ricketts, London, 1974


*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.

*Note that the price is not recalculated to the current value, but refers to the actual final price at the time the product was sold.


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