Dagger with hilt in the form of a blue bull (nilgai), Mughal period (1526–1858), ca. 1640
Hilt: nephrite; blade: watered steel; H. 15 in. (38.1 cm)
Gift of Alice Heeramaneck, in memory of Nasli Heeramaneck, 1985 (1985.58a,b)
The weaponry produced at the Mughal court reflects the same refinement as other portable arts. Daggers such as this one were sometimes awarded to officers who had distinguished themselves in military victory and were worn at court as dress accessories indicating royal favor. Animal-headed hilts were especially favored, and the realism of their rendering conveys the keen appreciation for nature by Mughal artists.
On this dagger, the hilt portrays a nilgai, or blue bull, one of the most beautiful animals found in India, and terminates at the base with a leafy scroll and lotus flower. Carved from a bluish-green nephrite that approximates the color of the animal, this hilt not only demonstrates the artist's thorough mastery of hard-stone carving, but also displays a level of accuracy and sensitivity that suggest close observation of a model, perhaps one of the captive animals kept in the imperial zoo.