Persian erotic dagger overall
This item has been sold.
Overall length

Sheathed 41.6 cm

Dagger 39.2 cm

Blade length

27.7 cm

Blade thickness

Base 5 mm

Middle 4.5 mm

Tip 4.5 mm

Blade width

Base 46 mm

Middle 33 mm

Tip 8 mm

Weight

382 grams

Point of balance

5 mm from hilt

Materials

Wootz steel, walrus ivory, gold

Scabbard; wood, leather, walrus ivory

(Odobenus rosmarus, CITES-II)

Origin

Persia

(Present-day Iran)

Dating

Made on or before 1849

Possibly 1798, depending on interpretation of date inscription

 

Provenance

From a Scandinavian collection

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Description

A fine Persian dagger with wootz blade. The double-edged blade tapers and curves towards the point. Its surfaces have raised center ribs. It is forged out of fine Persian wootz, decorated with floral motifs in gold on both sides.

Hilt

Its hilt is expertly carved out of a large walrus tusk. Walrus ivory was a prized material in Persia, commanding 5-10 times the price of the more abundant elephant ivory. It was obtained primarily from Russian fur traders who sold them on the markets of Constantinople. The material was thought to have wound-healing properties, where touching a wound with a piece of walrus tusk was thought to speed up healing.1

Erotic Persian dagger facing side

 

The facing side shows a girl sitting under a tree. Above her hanging from a branch is a basket of roses, with a bird perched on the same tree. Above and below this scene are cartouches, the top one carved with baroque-style acanthus leaves. The bottom cartouche shows a man with a large moustache, flanked with scrollwork.

 

 

Persian dagger with erotic scene on hilt

 

The reverse shows two winged angels, their bodies all but nude, one sucking the nipple of the other.

This side has two cartouches, the upper:

یا لطیف 
Ya latif

"Oh subtle one"

(One of the names of God)

 

The lower cartouche is a bit less clear. The date is part of an ornament and the interpretation depends on which elements you include in the date. 5 being written as a circle, is one of the flowers a 5? What doesn't help is that often in Islamic dates on antiques they only write the last digits, assuming the observer would know the century and millennium.

With that in mind, possible interpretations are:

۱۲۶ سال
Hijri 126

"The year 126"

(Hijri 1126, corresponding to January 18, 1714 - January 8, 1715 A.D.)

 

or

 

سال ۱۲
Hijri 12

"The year 12"

(Hijri 1212, corresponding to June 26 1798 - June 15 1799 A.D.)

 

or

 

۱۲۶۵ سال

Hijri 1265

"The year 1265"

(Corresponding to 27 November 1848 - 16 November 1849 A.D.)

 

Notes
1. Schuyler Cammann; "Carvings in Walrus Ivory." Museum Bulletin XVIII, no. 3 (September, 1954): 3-31.

 

Significance of the designs

Erotic scenes on such daggers hilts are incredibly rare.1

The girl at the front of the hilt appears to be in a state of daydreaming about love. The bird, a nightingale, and the roses represent the lover and the beloved in Persian art and literature. The rose symbolizes beauty and elegance, and the bird the human spirit.

“The most enduring symbol of love in Persian poetry is the nightingale, a male courting bird that loves the rose. Drunk with the beauty of the flower, the nightingale serenades his love while the rose remains oblivious to his adorations.” 2

 

The erotic scene at the reverse may perhaps be interpreted as the girl's daydream. It shows two female angels, heavenly beings that are normally repulsed by mankind's desire of sexual pleasure, engaged in lesbian affection.

Affection between two women in the Persia of the 19th century was fairly common and well documented. They could even formalize their relations in an act called khahar khandegi (sisterhood-by-oath). 3

Angels in Islam were thought to depart from people as soon as these people engaged in impure actions, which included, among others, sex, nudity, and also telling lies. In an angel's absence, the bad deeds were still noted, but the good deeds are no longer recorded for God. That is until this person ritually purified themselves. Another interesting layer is that Islamic scholarship generally sees angels are messengers of God without free will, and thus incapable of diverging from God's will. 

 

Notes
1. One with three couples on the reverse is published in Robert Hales; Islamic and Oriental arms and armour: a lifetime's passion. Robert Hales C.I. Limited, 2013. Page 89.
2. Farzaneh Milani; Veils and Words. Syracuse University Press. 1992.
3. Janet Afary; Sexual Politics In Modern Iran. Cambridge University Press. 2009. Page 103. 

 

Scabbard

The dagger comes in a wooden scabbard covered with fine black leather, with an elegant walrus ivory finial. The type of leather slightly diverges from what I am used to seeing on these scabbards, making me think it is slightly later than the dagger itself. The work is extremely well done, neatly and almost seamlessly covering what seems to be the original carved wooden scabbard core.

 

Conclusion

Part of a very small group of Persian daggers with erotic scenes on their hilts, this work takes the genre further than other known examples in showing heavenly beings engaged in acts of lust.

Apart from the unusual theme, the carving on the hilt is superb and exceeds the quality of most walrus-hilted Persian daggers.

 

Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene
Rare Persian dagger with carved walrus ivory hilt with erotic scene

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