Lot 250
  • 250

A Nasrid period ear-dagger, Spain, 15th century

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
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with double-sided swelled blade with central ridges on either side, blade and grip strap decorated with gold overlaid hunting scenes together with seven cartouches containing kufic inscriptions, the forte decorated with a figure armed with a crossbow [qudib afranyi] pursuing various animals including a lion, the top of the grip strap between the pommel ears with a gold-overlaid diagonal blazon within a shield, the grip scales made from horn and secured by four brass rivets, decorated with foliage carved in relief, the large circular ears carved around the borders with inscriptions including the letters 'R' and 'TT'


recent professional conservation and restoration with replacement areas clearly visible in catalogue illustration and online images, overall in good condition, as viewed
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Ear daggers are considered the most important contribution to the Nasrid panopoly. Probably originating from North Africa, their origins are not entirely conclusive, but it is known that they were widely used in Spain during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, before being introduced to Europe via Italy. Although there are no examples in the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum or the Tower of London, the ear dagger was once extremely fashionable among great nobles, and there exists a portrait of a young Edward VI, now in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, clutching a dagger of this type at his waist (see Sir G.F. Laking, A Record of European Arms and Armour, London, 1920, Vol.III, p.56, fig.836).

The ear dagger (dague à oreilles in French and alla Levantina in Italian) derives its name from the striking design of the hilt pommel, comprising two flattened discs which resemble ears, issuing from either side of the grip. The grip scales, made from horn in this example, are kept in place by brass rivets, a method of attachment also seen in the Nasrid period sword No. 24.903 in the Museo de Ejécito, Madrid (see J.D. Dodds [Ed.], Al-Andalus, The Art of Islamic Spain, New York, 1992, pp.282-283).

This dagger is clearly related to the famous Nasrid period ear dagger in the Real Armeria, Madrid No.G361 (see Ibid, pp.290-3) which is associated with Muhammed XII (called Boabdil) and the battle of Lucena in 888 AH/1483 AD. Two other daggers exist which share the same features as this dagger and are almost certainly by the same hand. The first is in the Bargello Museum, Florence No.Bg R126 (see M. Scalini, Islam Speccio d'Oriente, 2002, p.87, no.61) and the second is in the Ambrosian Library, Milan (see Laking 1920, p.55, figs.834a & 834b). Both of these daggers share with the present example the same minute and exquisitely-worked damascening on either side of the blade's forte, as well as the 'ear' plaques of the grip being carved with inscriptions in a 'Hispano-Arabian manner' (Ibid, p.54).

The Arabic and Latin inscriptions on the grip 'ears' may be unreadable. Pseudo-inscriptions exist on the famous Nasrid period gilt parade helmet which is set with enamel devices in the Metropolitan Museum, New York No.1883.413 (see J.D. Dodds 1992, pp.294-5). Other Nasrid period objects with both Arabic and Latin inscriptions include the fourteenth century Mudejar doors in Seville Cathedral (See the Real Alcazar exhibition catalogue Ibn Khaldun, The Mediterranean in the 14th Century, Seville, 2006, pp.236-237). The door inscriptions combine a eucharistic quote from St. John's Gospel and an invocation of a Biblical Psalm around the knotted decoration with the word 'Allah' carved in the corners and central section.  

The damascening around the blade of the forte in the present example comprises the figure of a man with a crossbow in chase of numerous animals including a lion. The fourteenth century Grenadine writer Ibn Hudayl records that in Al-Andalus the crossbow was known as the 'Christian bow' or 'French bow' (qudib afranyi). A Nasrid period example remains in the Archaeological and Ethnographical Museum, Granada No. E1 002 (see Ibn Khaldun 2006, pp.122-123). Furthermore, there exists the possibility that the lion as quarry depicted in the damascened decoration is a metaphor for Castile-Leon, the Christian neighbours of the Nasrids. Leon (lion) united with Castile (castle) in 1037 AD. Castile-Leon became the most extensive of the Christian Kingdoms in Spain, taking a leading part in the conquest of the Muslim south. In 1479 AD Castile and Aragon were united by the marriage of Isabella of Castile to Ferdinand II of Aragon. The diagonal blazon and shield which appear overlaid in gold at the end of the grip strap between the pommel ears are depicted in the same manner as the famous Nasrid blazon.