Description: An exceptional and large18th C. Chinese Qianlong Guard’s officer sword. The combination of the finely carved workmanship of the hilt fittings and the exceptionally rare 17th- 18th c. blade h this a singular example. This style of sword is listed in the Imperial Regulations (Huangchao Ligi Tushi in Yingyin Wenyuange siku quanshu, vol. 656 [Shanghai, 1983], p. 6) as having been worn by the bodyguard of the Emperor (see thePortrait of the Imperial Bodyguard Zhanyinbao), but is of a more distinct type and was almost certainly made for an officer of Qianlong Emperor’s Army on special order as indicated by the singularly designed and matching sword fittings.
Hilt Fittings: The hilt is carved with delicate open gilded copper, now with a deep dark patina evident on all the fittings. The use of gilded copper as a medium is present on the finest Qianlong period Chinese swords. Examples of these can be seen in the Beijing Palace Museum, where the Emperor Qianlong’s personal sabres are on display. Those sabres display delicate carved open chiseling, and often incorporate similar symbological themes as those present on the guard, ferrule, and pommel of our example (Gugong Museum: QING GONG WUBEI. Armaments and Military Provisions). These include the five toed dragon and the vinuous designs reminiscent of the finest Tibetan chiseled iron, copper and brass. The maker of the hilt fittings was certainly a smith and artist who was not only familiar with the finest Tibetan chiseled work, but also was skilled in working in that medium. What makes the fittings of this sword completely singular and without known equal among Chinese sabres is the decoration and workmanship of the crossguard. This is in the style of earlier 16th C. southern Chinese work for the Japanese, now known as nanban ironwork and most often found on Japanese sword fittings in carved iron. The smith of this sword was not only familiar with the designs and form of Japanese nanban work but chose to reinterpret the workmanship in a much more statuary manner. The nanban influence can be seen in the asymmetry of the design on the crossguard where a very heavily chiseled and pierced Chinese dragon with five toes is found encircling the crossguard amongst delicate scrollwork in the sino-Tibetan manner more often found on swords of this quality. In addition, a decorative Japanese style seppa-dai is found on this crossguard, of no utility in this sword but a reinterpretation in Chinese workmanship of what the smith would have seen on Japanese tsuba. This must have been clearly the preference of the owner who was familiar with Japanese nanban work but who would have preferred Chinese symbolism on his sabre. The motif of the dragon is then present and worked by the same hand on all of the rest of the fittings including the transitional fangshi/yuanshi form pommel.
The textile wrapping of the grip and the leather has been re-conditioned.
The blade is extraordinarily rare and the only example of this type that we are familiar with on a Chinese sabre of this era as having a cutler stamp in the blade and is without question 18th C. or earlier and likely an heirloom blade hilted for the officer that ordered this sword. The shape of the blade is a form between a yanlingdao and yaodao/peidao, and was a standard military design from the late Ming through the Qing dynasty. It is similar to the earlier zhibeidao, is largely straight, with a curve appearing at the center of percussion near the blade's tip. This allows for thrusting attacks and overall handling similar to that of the jian, while still preserving much of the dao's strengths in cutting and slashing.
This blade is mounted with a gilded brass dragon tunkou and represent a known style of tunkou mounts with an example found in the Beijing Palace Museum (Yang, Li, and Xu 1988). The form of the dragon is a stylized early Qing period type matching the early workmanship of the fittings.
Provenance: From the collection of Guiseppe Briggidi, Italian Consul General in Shanghai in the 1930s.
Dimensions: Overall length is 37, blade is 30 in length to the crossguard, and the width at the ricasso is 1 1/2.
Price on Request.
Clarke, John (2008) A History of Ironworking in Tibet: Centers of Production, Styles and Techniques in Warriors of the Himalayas: Rediscovering the Arms and Armor of Tibet. Metropolitan Museum of Art: NY Gugong Museum:QING GONG WUBEI.Armaments and Military Provisions.Complete Collection of Treasures Gugong, 56.Shanghai, 2008. 28, 264 pp. Huangchao Ligi Tushi in Yingyin Wenyuange siku quanshu, vol. 656 [Shanghai, 1983], p. Yang, Li, and Xu (1988) The Art of the Dragon. Beijing Palace Museum: Beijing