DAMASCUS STEEL SHIELD
Place of Origin: PUNJAB, INDIA
Date: 19th Century
Overall diameter: 415mm (16 ¼ inches)
Composed of mechanical Damascus steel, this magnificent shield, or ‘dhal’, is excellently preserved, retaining nearly all of its original decoration.
Amidst whorls of watered steel (their specific visual effect known as the ‘birds-eye’ pattern for the larger circles that appear on the metal’s surface), four star-shaped bosses are decorated in gold koftgari. Each is adorned with a quatrefoil arrangement of four-petalled flowerheads with another at the centre, the ‘rays’ of each boss further decorated with foliage and the gaps between them pierced at equidistant points along the circumference.
The border shines as brightly as the centre, for it is first carved into a jagged edge which has been decorated throughout with gilt scrolling vine tendrils and an inverted band of gold triangles which occupy the gap between each protrusion. Above this arrangement is another ring of stylised foliage dotted with carefully drawn flowerheads in bloom.
The reverse of the shield shows this object’s age, but it retains its four iron loops for suspension and a red silk velvet cushion bordered with dark yellow thread.
This koftgari is comparable to work that came from Sialkot (now in northern Pakistan), such as can be seen in a cigar holder that was purchased at the 1867 Universal Exhibition held in Paris and which now resides in the Victoria and Albert Museum. A further example of similar work being a katar exhibited by Runjeet Singh in Arts des Guerriers d’Orient – Paris 2018 (Ref. 209). A shield preserved in the Royal Jaipur collection also exhibits similar decoration (see Robert Elgood, Arms & Armour at the Jaipur Court:The Royal Collection, Niyogi Books, 2015, p. 167, No. 118).