Published: April 22, 2008
A dagger that once belonged to Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal as a memorial to his beloved wife, sold for $3.3 million on April 10 at Bonhams’ Indian and Islamic sale.
The elegant and understated personal dagger carried by Shah Jahan, (reigned 1627‱657), with its fine gold inscriptions and decoration, dated to 1629″0, was expected to attract bids of around $590/980,000. The whole collection finally sold for just under $6 million.
The inscriptions in nasta’liq script on the blade include the Shah Jahan’s official titles, date and place of birth, and the honorific parasol (an ancient pan-Asian symbol of divinity of royalty); all state that it was the personal dagger of Shah Jahan.
The dagger was the most important item in a fantastic collection built by the late Jacques Desenfans, a Belgian driven by his passion for Islamic, Indian and South East Asian history and culture. He spent more than 50 years amassing this hugely important collection, which includes arms and armor, early pottery and works of art.
Shah Jahan lived from 1592 to 1666. This extraordinary dagger seems to be the second known personal dagger of the shah. Relatively few personal objects of Shah Jahan have survived. With its high quality and complete inscription, the dagger is an important addition to this small corpus and is the earliest dated piece. Shah Jahan was born Prince Khurram Shihab al-Din Muhammad in 1592 in Lahore, the third and favorite son of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, and was later titled Shah Jahan or “King of the World” in 1627. His reign was called the Golden Age of the Mughals and the empire experienced its greatest period of prosperity and stability. Under his rule, Mughal artistic and architectural achievements reached their zenith. He was a patron of the fine arts and continued to foster the Mughal tradition of painting, and was also a prolific builder with a highly refined aesthetic.
Great monuments from his reign include the Taj Mahal and the Pearl Mosque at Agra, the Divan-e ‘Am, the Divan-e Khas, the Jami’ and Moti mosques and the Palace in Delhi, and the Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. He also created the fabled Peacock Throne, or Takht-e Tawus, to celebrate his rule.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 207 468 8259 or www.bonhams.com .
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