Identifying the Object
The information on the label provides that the object is a dagger and its scabbard. It was made in India at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The label mentions 1800 as the date of its creation.
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Materials and Techniques
The label copy mentions several different materials that are used for the object. The blade of the dagger is made of steel, and the hilt is jade. Moreover, the latter is decorated with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. The scabbard is covered with a velvet fabric and gold tissues at its point. Furthermore, the blade itself is also decorated with golden lines and an incrustation with precious stones.
Like most of the daggers, this one had a secular function. This is a form of a weapon used against enemies or in other cases where there was a need in cutting something. However, an owner of this object most likely never used it for the original purpose. Such weapons were very expensive and carried only by very rich people in India, who did not need to enter the battle on their own. The dagger was one of the ways to show the high status of its owner.
Scale and Presentation
Although the dagger is not as small as, for instance, a kitchen knife, its size is somewhat diminished by the grand hall in which it is exhibited. The object seems to be about the length of a grown man’s arm up to an elbow if he grips it in his hand. The relatively small size of the dagger is compensated by the nature of light targeted at it. The dark room, where the item is exposed, creates a perfect contrast to the object that stands out due to its color. The fact that the dagger and the scabbard are fixated on a pole instead of being put on the desk strengthens the impression, as the precious stones shine in the dark, attracting the viewer’s attention.
The dagger has a shape that is different from the ones typical for European forms of this weapon. Its hilt is rounded at its point, which slightly resembles a pistol grip. Its other end is made in a shape of two petals that hold the blade. The hilt is made of white nephrite and carved with thin, elegant lines combined in a floral pattern. The carvings go deep into the surface, filled with rubies, diamonds, and emeralds, each element surrounded by the golden contour. The hilt looks especially noticeable due to the color contrast between the white surface of nephrite and the bright stones.
The dagger’s blade is two-edged and has three pairs of openings close to its edges, making it look slender. Moreover, the first of them is filled with white stones, which continues the color scheme set by the hilt. The base and the center of the blade are decorated with orient-styled ornaments made with steel and gold. Finally, the tip is very sharp and slightly rounded, balancing the shape of the hilt at the top.
The scabbard adds to the harmony of the dagger with its color and shape of decorations. The main part of it is made of velvet, the soft and matt finish of which makes a perfect combination with a sparkling hilt. The light green color of the fabric matches with the parts looking like golden leaves and flowers that cover the tip and the base of the scabbard.
The nature of the object does not provide any subject matter for it.
Association with the Islamic Culture
The design of this dagger and scabbard speaks of its belonging to the heritage of the Islamic culture. The literature suggests that this type of weapons was common in India during the times of the Mughal rule (Alexander 2015, 215). As it is widely known, the cultural objects that represent the material Islamic heritage do not use the images of people or animals. Floral and geometrical decorations are the base of the design typical for it. The Mughal empire that covered the large part of modern India in the past has left many examples of its masterpieces, like the famous Taj Mahal. The dagger and scabbard illustrate well the epoch of the Islamic culture in this part of Asia.
Points of Interest
Personally, I find this object to be one of the most interesting among the weapons collection of the Museum of Islamic Arts. There are many daggers that have a similar shape of a hilt, yet this one is very interesting due to its ornament and color decision. I have seen other decorations made on a stone surface, most of them performed as carvings. However, this hilt has brightly colored rubies and emeralds that make the object sparkly and attractive. At the same time, the red, green, and golden spots do not dominate, leaving enough space for the whiteness of nephrite.
Observations and Insights
Previously, I have seen this type of daggers in illustrated books and movies depicting old India. However, I have never associated this design exclusively with Islamic influence. The exhibition has helped me to review my knowledge about the cultural heritage of this religion in other countries across the world. I believe that most of the Asian nations have material objects that were made under this influence.
Alexander, David G. 2015. Islamic Arts and Armor in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.