Dagger with the handle in the shape of a lion’s head

Historical period(s)
Mughal dynasty, 1650-1700
Mughal School
Watered steel inlaid with gold and agate
H x W x D: 32.1 x 3 x 3.9 cm (12 5/8 x 1 3/16 x 1 9/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Freer Gallery 01: Body Image: Arts of the Indian Subcontinent
Weapon and Armament


India, lion, Mughal dynasty (1526 - 1858), WWII-era provenance

To 1998
John Lawrence Fine Arts, London, acquired from an unidentified European vendor, to 1998 [1]

From 1998
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from John Lawrence Fine Arts in 1998


[1] John Lawrence Fine Arts acquired the object from a European vendor; the object had arrived in England sometime in the early part of the 20th century (according to Curatorial Note 2, Massumeh Farhad, February 4, 1998, in the object record.

Previous Owner(s)

John Lawrence Fine Arts


In the seventeenth century, daggers with animal-headed hilts were among the most popular and fashionable accoutrements worn by members of Mughal nobility and the ruling elite. Most often adorned with heads of horses, but also sheep, goats, and camels, such daggers were suspended from a man's belt or tucked into it. Although regarded primarily as ceremonial weapons, their sharper blades suggest that they could also serve as functional and deadly works of art.

This particular dagger is notable for its expressive leonine head, which was first cast and then tooled to give the surface its subtle modulation. The fangs, whiskers, as well as the overall musculature of the head have been articulated and accentuated with gold inlay, lending the animal a ferocious and naturalistic expression. In contrast to the carefully articulated head, the lion's mane has been skillfully abstracted into a mass of wavy gold lines that form gently swaying, stylized rose bushes. 

Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
SI Usage Statement

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this image. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

The information presented on this website may be revised and updated at any time as ongoing research progresses or as otherwise warranted. Pending any such revisions and updates, information on this site may be incomplete or inaccurate or may contain typographical errors. Neither the Smithsonian nor its regents, officers, employees, or agents make any representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the information on the site. Use this site and the information provided on it subject to your own judgment. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery welcome information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in their collections.