A Ram’s Head Shamshir
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, 19th Century
41 in. (104 cm.) long
The shamshir’s name comes from the radical curve of its blade, translating to ‘lion’s claw’ or ‘lion’s tail.’ The blade itself is forged from wootz steel–the carbon deposits within the iron ingots forming intricate wave-like patterns known as ‘damascus.’ A modern scabbard of tooled black leather, attached with shell-shaped brackets for suspension, accompanies the sword.
The present shamshir is a beautiful example of the famed silver metalware produced in Lucknow during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The diamond-shaped quillion is made from engraved silver with fine blue and green champleve and basse-taille enamelling particularly characteristic of Lucknow. In the center is a Hyderabadi poppy in aquamarine blue–a distinctive motif in the Lucknow vocabulary which demonstrates the fusion of Deccani opulence and Mughal naturalism. (see Mark Zebrowski, Gold, Silver & Bronze from Mughal India, 1997, p. 87, pl. 74.)
Perched above is a bird in blue and cherry red, its head bowed and wings spread wide. A spiral of bristling green leaves encircles the scene, and is flanked by two birds in flight. On the border appears a quatrefoil floral pattern on a blue ground, another characteristic motif of nawabi enamel. The quillon’s tapered ends mirror the splendid offset pommel, which is formed into a ram’s head. The fine etchings in the ram’s fur and curling horns shine through the vibrant blue and orange enamel, contrasting the animal’s brilliant silver smile. The grip–extending as if the curving neck of the ram–is made of translucent rock crystal, secured to the tang with small pins.
Compare the present example to another fine ram’s head shamshir from Lucknow currently housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (acc. 36.25.1302a, b). The scabbard exhibits similar enameled metal work motifs such as the Hyderabad poppy, the scrolling green foliage, and the quatrefoil floral border.