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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION


The double edged curved steel blade with reinforced tip, the x-shaped hilt of nephrite jade set with emeralds and rubies in gold settings, the scabbard locket, chape and tassle ornament en suite with the hilt, the wooden scabbard lined with silk and metal thread textile decorated with poppies, tassles of red and silver thread attached
The dagger 15 3/8in. (39cm.) long; the scabbard 12in. (30.5cm.) long; the tassles 38 1/2in. (97cm.)
Robert, 1st Baron Clive of Plassey (1725-1774), or his first son
Edward Clive, 2nd Baron Clive of Plassey and 1st Earl of Powis (3rd creation 1804), (1754 – 1839),
Edward Herbert (formerly Clive), 2nd Earl of Powis (1785-1848);
Edward James Herbert, 3rd Earl of Powis (1818-91);
George Charles Herbert, 4th Earl of Powis (1862-1952);
Mervyn Horatio Herbert, Viscount Clive, 17th Lord Darcy de Knayth (1904–43);
Styche Estate and Trust;
Through London trade 2015.
Susan Stronge, Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection, London, 2015, no.41, p.90.
Amin Jaffer and Amina Okada, From the Great Mughals to the Maharajas: Jewels from the Al Thani Collection (Des Grands Moghols aux Maharajahs: Joyaux de la Collection Al Thani), Paris, 2017, no.94, p.123.
Amin Jaffer, Treasures of the Mughals and Maharajas: The Al Thani Collection, Milan, 2017, no.96, pp.148-149.
Martin Chapman and Amin Jaffer, East Meets West: Jewels of the Maharajas from the Al Thani Collection, San Francisco, 2018, no.65, p.176.
Amin Jaffer, B. Haikun, W. Yuegong, Treasures from the Al Thani Collection: Gems and Jewels of India, Beijing, 2018, no.100, p.173, illus. p.172.
Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 18 November 2015 – 16 March 2016.
From the Great Mughals to the Maharajas: Jewels from the Al Thani Collection, Grand Palais, Paris, 29 March – 5 June 2017.
Treasures of the Mughals and the Maharajas: The Al Thani Collection, Palazzo Ducale, Venice, 9 September 2017 – 3 January 2018.
Treasures from the Al Thani Collection: Gems and Jewels of India and Masterpieces from a Royal Collection, Palace Museum, Beijing, 17 April – 18 June 2018.
East Meets West: Jewels of the Maharajas from the Al Thani Collection, Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 3 November – 24 February 2019.
Special Notice

This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Behnaz Atighi Moghaddam
Behnaz Atighi Moghaddam Head of Sale

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Lot Essay


Rulers have always used the beauty of jewelled objects to demonstrate power and prestige, and rarely was this more the case than in India in the eighteenth century. In part, this was a legacy of the example set at the Mughal court at the height of their imperial power, when emperors like Jahangir and Shah Jahan had elevated courtly ritual to new heights of opulence. Into the eighteenth century, the later Mughals continued to be important patrons of the arts, with the jade-hilted dagger included in this catalogue as a prime example of the refinement and beauty of later Mughal patronage.

Though the Mughals had always ruled through regional aristocracy, in the eighteenth century these intermediaries grew ever more powerful. They continued to owe obeisance to the court in Delhi and signalled their loyalty by continuing to produce art that was within a recognised Mughal aesthetic. Our jade back scratcher, agate-handled fly whisk, and enamelled hookah pipe all demonstrate this tendency to continue to work within an accepted artistic framework. However, as power shifted to the provinces this was combined with local tastes and desires, such as Tipu Sultan’s fascination with the symbolism of the tiger, which inspired his atelier to put their skills to use developing a new visual vocabulary (see lot 82 in this sale).

The eighteenth century was also a fateful moment in Indian history as it marked the transition of the British East India Company from opportunistic merchants to regional power. The establishment of settlements in Madras and Calcutta and the assumption of the jagir of Bengal in the 1760s laid the foundations for the period of British rule. With their new wealth, the Company nabobs (an anglicised corruption of nawab) could compete with – and ultimately defeat – even powerful states like Mysore. They were inclined to emulate their predecessors, Robert Clive, for instance, is likely to have sourced his own Durbar set specifically to entertain Indian guests in the manner to which they were accustomed. This ensured that even into the nineteenth century, beautiful objects like these continued to be understood as symbols of power in the Indian subcontinent.

Robert Clive

The five lots of this collection (lots 67-71) all come from the collection of Robert Clive. Even in his own lifetime, the name of Robert Clive (b. 1725) was synonymous with both the opportunities which Britain’s new empire offered to the young and ambitious, and the consequences which taking those opportunities might bring. With a characteristic skill for being in the right place at the right time, Clive first came to prominence in 1751 when he led the defence of Arcot during a siege by Chanda Sahib, the ruler of the Carnatic who had aligned himself with the French. However, his great moment for self-advancement came in 1756, when he was put in command of the force assembled to retake Calcutta from the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj al-Dawla.

Not only was he able to retake Calcutta, but by brokering a deal with the Nawab’s elderly commander-in-chief, Mir Jafar, he was able to install the latter as a client, ruling at the pleasure of the East India Company. During his second governorate between 1764 and 1767, Clive forestalled intrigues at the Nawab’s court and fended off attacks by the Mughals, the Dutch, and the Nawab of Awadh to consolidate Company control over Bengal. He then launched a series of administrative reforms, aiming to reduce the corruption of Company officials in Bengal and also to introduce a more effective – or ruthless – tax regime on the people he had come to govern, all with the aim of increasing dividends for the Company’s shareholders.

Though Clive’s pre-eminence was undisputed in India, his greatest wish was to be accepted among the elite back home. Elevated to the peerage after the Battle of Plassey, he was able to purchase a house in Berkeley Square – fitted in ‘the richest and most elegant manner’ – which along with his estate at Walcot Hall in Shropshire and Surrey Villa at Claremont provided a fitting setting for his art. He was never quite at home in the British establishment, both due to disdain for his humble origins and quickly-won riches, and concerns about his actions in India. With the onset of the Bengal Famine, which resulted in the death of around a third of the region’s population between 1769 and 1773, he was hauled before a parliamentary inquiry to justify his actions. Though he defended himself with spirit, his death followed in 1774, probably the result of suicide. His fortune, Walcot Hall, and his peerage all passed to his son Edward Clive, First Earl of Powis. Like his father, Edward would spend time in India, serving as Governor of Madras, and brought back further objects to enhance his father’s collection.

An impressive gem-set jade hilted dagger and mounts

In the court culture of Mughal India, daggers held an important role as an indicator of status and rank. In Imperial Mughal paintings, especially those illustrating the official biographies of the Mughal Emperors, almost every important figure is depicted with at least one dagger tucked into their waistband. The present dagger with its masterfully carved and lavishly inlaid jade hilt, fine blade and silk-lined scabbard is an exceptional example of an object combining the most precious materials with the finest quality and workmanship, intended for only the most important of owners.  

The hilt of the present dagger is of a rare form. The form has been attributed variously to the Deccan, as with an example with relief-carved decoration in the Al-Sabah Collection from the early 17th century (LNS 275 HS; published S. Kaoukji, Precious Indian Weapons and other Princely Accoutrements, London, 2018, pp.97-98, no.28 and illustrated here) and to North India, as with an example in rock crystal from the late 17th Century in the Jaipur Royal Collection (Robert Elgood, Arms & Armour at the Jaipur Court, New Delhi, 2015, p.38, no.11) or a another, in nephrite jade, which was also owned by Robert Clive, now in the collection of Powis Castle (NT 1180575; Susan Stronge, 'Gold and Silver' in Archer, Rowell and Skelton, Treasures from India: The Clive Collection at Powis Castle, London, 1987, no.19, p.42 and illustrated p.51).

The nephrite jade locket and chape are elegantly set with ruby trefoils and diamond stemmed buds in gold kundan settings framed by channel-set ruby bands. The tassel mount is again set with ruby trefoils but with emerald buds. A very similar design is found on a chape and pommel disk of a jade sword hilt in the al-Sabah Collection, probably from the Deccan and dated to the late 17th or early 18th century (LNS 357 HS ab). Writing about this sword hilt Kaoukji describes the use of trefoils and in particular stemmed buds as favoured Deccani features (op.cit., pp. 314-317, cat. 111).

As well as the unusual form of hilt, our dagger is notable for its enlarged proportions and the manner in which it has been inlaid. Other bejewelled hilts of this form are known, with a comparable example in the al-Sabah Collection attributed to the Mughal dominions in the late 17th century in the al-Sabah Collection (LNS 728 HS ab; illustrated here). However, none are set with gems as lavish in size as this. The exceptionally large surface of the baluster and top of the guard on the present lot allow for much larger than usual table-cut stones to be incorporated. Meanwhile the ruby set into the finial at the top of the pommel is a rare example of a stone faceted by an Indian lapidary in the manner one would find on a diamond. Surrounding these larger cut stones are extensive floral motifs of smaller rubies and emeralds connected by a flowing web of gold in the manner more typically found in gem-set artworks of the 17th century. Looking closely at this combination of inlay on the hilt, one can see that this is not how it was originally conceived. The particularly opulent arrangement of the present hilt must have been re-inlaid after the hilt was originally created and decorated.

Fine gem-set daggers such as the present example played a key role in the elaborate gifting culture of the Mughal court and other orbiting Indian courts. The biographies of the Mughal emperors go into great detail on the subject. In particular the Tuzuk-i Jahangiri comments in great detail on the appearance and types of swords and daggers coming in and out of the imperial household. We do not know how this fine dagger entered the possession of Robert Clive. It may have been taken in the wake of the Battle of Plassey in 1757 when he had the treasury of Murshidabad opened to him by the new Nawab – and East India Company puppet – Mir Jafar. However, the fact that the hilt was re-inlaid in the manner we find it suggests that the dagger was presented to Clive as a diplomatic gift. This may have come when he was conferred with his jagir by the new Nawab in 1758 (Susan Stronge, Bejewelled Treasures: The Al-Thani Collection, London, 2015, p.90). Another possibility might be that he was gifted it in 1765 in his meeting with the Mughal Emperor Shah ‘Alam whereby the Emperor issued a firman granting the Diwani rights of Bengal to the British East India Company and awarded Clive the lieutenancy of the Deccan, the highest rank in the Mughal administration.

The atypical proportions of the hilt and the uniquely large stones with which it has been re-laid support the idea that the dagger was a gift. An earlier gem-set hilt of unusually large proportions may have been re-inlaid and enriched to resemble what the imperial or princely donor, the Nawab or the Emperor, thought looked European and thus familiar to Robert Clive and his entourage. Alternatively, although less likely, the dagger might have been the product of a special commission in the mid-18th century. Perhaps in trying to accommodate European tastes into the design the donor intended to flatter or win favour with a man who had, in a matter of years, become the most dangerous and powerful figure in North India.

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