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An enameled and silver-mounted shamshir sabre

Number

3519

Origin

India, Lucknow (hilt and scabbard); Iran (blade)

Time

First half of the 19th century (hilt and scabbard); late 17th or early 18th century (blade)

Technique

Forging, casting, inlaying, enameling

Material

Steel, silver, gold, enamels, wood, brocade

Dimensions

Overall length (without scabbard) 1025 mm; blade length 898 mm; scabbard length 911 mm

The blade of conventional form is made of watered steel. The forte of the blade is inlaid in the tahneshan technique with four gold cartouches on the obverse side. The cartouches contain Arabic inscriptions "O Allah", "O the Wishmaster", "The servant of the king of the country Abbas" and "The work of Assadollah" (a shortened version of the popular Iranian maker’s mark "The work of Assadollah Isfahani"). The hilt and scabbard mounts are enameled in polychrome with flowers, foliage and birds. In addition, there are round cartouches with various silver animal and floral motifs, as well as borders of repetitive small silver quatrefoils, all against a dark blue enameled ground. The pommel and quillon ends are formed as ram heads enameled in dark blue and orange. The wooden scabbard is covered with flower-patterned purple brocade fabric, which is badly worn and faded. 

COMMENT. Shamshir is the most common type of Iranian sabre, which has a strongly but smoothly curved, single-edged blade. In addition, the blade is narrow but rather thick and is perfectly smooth, although there are rare exceptions. The shamshir was probably fully formed and has achieved recognition in Iran by the end of the 16th century, when the country was already united under the rule of the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722). It turned out to be an effective slashing weapon, whereas the use of the point for stabbing was difficult owing to the excessive curvature of the blade and required special skills. The blade itself was most often made of watered steel but was rarely decorated. However, many shamshirs exhibit impressive craftsmanship in both blade quality and overall decoration. Even the simplest examples have an elegant appearance. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the shamshir has become widespread in the Islamic world. Iranian watered-steel blades were highly valued not only in the East, but also in the West. In other countries, both imported Iranian-made blades and locally produced Iranian-type blades were generally mounted in accordance with traditional national styles. Local versions differ from the classical Iranian shamshir not only in decoration but often in the hilt design. 

The polychrome decor of the hilt and scabbard of the presented sabre demonstrates the special style of the Indian art of enameling (minakari), which is traditionally associated with the city of Lucknow, the capital of the present-day state of Uttar Pradesh in North India. Its feature is that the dark blue, light blue and green transparent enamels together with yellow, orange and brown opaque dabs form a very variegated but harmonious floral design often incorporating animal motifs as well. Indian sabres with similar zoomorphic hilts can be seen in some notable museums and private collections including the National Museum in New Delhi (inv. no. 71.249, see Лал К., Дас А.К., Пант Г.Н. Классическое индийское декоративное и ювелирное искусство: Фестиваль Индии в СССР. – Ленинград, 1987. – С. 113, №111), the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (inv. no. 300-1876, see The Indian Heritage: Court Life and Arts under Mughal Rule / Edited by R. Skelton: [Exhibition Catalogue]. – London, 1982. – P. 134, no. 433), the Wallace Collection in London (inv. nos. OA1398 and OA1399), and the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds (inv. no. XXVIS.202), 

LITERATURE: Сиваченко Е. Сталь и Золото: Восточное оружие из собрания Feldman Family Museum = Steel and Gold: Eastern Weapons from the Feldman Family Museum Collection. – Киев, 2019. – С. 326-327, №121.