Place of Origin: QAJAR EMPIRE
Date: 19th Century
Overall: 570mm (22 ½ inches)
This rare and unusual Persian dagger with enamel work is closely related to Qajar enamel miniatures and portraits produced in the 19th century.
Applied sections of copper-alloy frame the vibrant decorative panels and portraits that feature on the hilt, forming stylised leaves, vine tendrils and flowerheads that intermingle on a blue enamel ground. The central setting depicts a pink flower – the lines and flecks of its petals picked out in hues of red and white – enclosed above and below by flowers in blue. The rounded pommel shows the portrait of a young Qajar man with red cheeks and kolah (the tall black cap typically worn by Qajar aristocrats, courtiers and military officials). This portrait is repeated once more on the hilt and three times further over the blue fabric-covered scabbard whose chape and locket are decorated en suite with the hilt.
The double-edged blade is of superior quality, exhibiting an exquisite dark wootz pattern with condensed curls of crucible steel. A single fuller has been carefully cut along the centre of each face of the blade, covering the greater part of its length and tapering towards the end before the blade finishes with a sharp point. The blade and mounts are in excellent condition, with no visible damages or signs of restoration, making this an object of notable craftsmanship and exceptional preservation.
But the weapon-type is interesting in itself here. Enamelled Persian jambiyas are well known: one preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession Number 36.25.683) shows much the same decoration as our own, depicting floral motifs and the portrait of a red-cheeked youth. Another is published in La Collection d’armes orientales de Pierre Loti, which depicts the mythical Iranian king Fereydun and which Pradine says is “certainly a princely gift, probably a present from the brother or son of the Shah, since Pierre Loti visited the Qajar court assiduously.”
Our example, however, belongs quite clearly to the ‘kindjal’ type, and as such likely owes its origins to the Caucasus region, an area that saw intense fighting between the Qajars and the Russian Empire in the first half of the 19th century. There can be little doubt that this object once belonged to an individual of considerable importance in the Qajar Caucasus at this time – a high-ranking military official or courtier in a province of modern-day Georgia, Azerbaijan, or Armenia, who served one of the many prince-governors (beglerbegī) of the Qajar Empire, and so was perhaps equipped with this kindjal rather than a jambiya to fight against the Russian invaders of the time.
 Stéphane Pradines, La Collection d’armes orientales de Pierre Loti, Les Indes savantes, 2019, pp. 130-131. (author’s translation)
 On the political structure of the prince-governors in the Qajar Empire see Gavin R. G. Hambly, “Iran During the Reigns of Fath ‘Ali Shah and Muhammad Shah” in P. Avery, G. R. G. Hambly & C. Melville (eds.), The Cambridge History of Iran Volume 7: From Nadir Shah to the Islamic Republic, Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 149.