A polychrome-painted Dhal
Origin: India (Gujrat - in the Punjab Province of Pakistan or Kashmir)
Date: late 18th century
Length: 18 inch diameter
Materials: Leather and lacquer
A polychrome-painted, gilt and lacquered leather incomplete/ceremonial Dhal (shield)
The dhal is a type of shield found in the Indian subcontinent. They are geometrically round and vary in diameter from about eight inches to twenty-four inches. The large sizes were ideal for battle and very practical. Most shields are circular while others are strongly convex or curved for extra reinforcement and to cause a lance head or arrow to glance off or slip from the curved surface. Though Dhals served practical purposes, they were also favoured for ceremonial purposes - these were mostly made of leather.
Of deep convex and circular shape, with an everted rim, the stretched leather painted in polychromes, gilt and lacquered, the decoration consisting of a central heightened golden roundel filled with floral blossoms and surrounded by leafy vegetal trellis, radiating from the centre a grid of cusped golden cartouches with foliage and flower buds, the rim with a golden vegetal band similar to the one in the centre, the back mirroring the same decorative patterns except for an even lusher and more opulent central roundel, with a golden lotus flower in the centre and intertwined, scrolling vegetal sprays all around. The back part similarly decorated and with missing parts at the colour. With two small holes for mounting on one side. The colours throughout the shield are deep and provide a very abstract feel and presence. The quality and techniuqie of craftsmanship is something of notice. Age related wear on the outer side.
At the rear there is no cushion or holes for steel bosses. This is unusual and would be noticeable if removed at a later stage. As there is no sign of this and the shield being in untouched/non-restored condition, it is most probably a shield that is incomplete by the owner or a ceremonial implement. It is unclear as to why a shield would be left incomplete like this (maybe the maker passed?) but the quality is of real admiration and one would question as to why such a beautiful shield was left incomplete. Even if used for ceremonial purposes, most Dhals still have the padded cushion or bosses installed. Maybe it was intentional, a project or attempt at something new or different?
The way in which the dhal is painted is very similar to shields made in Gujrat. For shields with similar painted designs see: The Royal Collection, RCIN: 38128 - presented to the Prince of Wales 1875-76 by the Nawab of Balasinor, Bombay Presidency.
For another comparable shield, see Met Museum Accession Number: 2015.695. That shield was made by Khooshal Dhunjee & Sons / Painter and Shield makers / Dhalgarwada Street / City Ahmedabad / Bombay Presidency / India.
Our examples' features are strikingly similar in both style and design to both these examples.
Overall this is a nice dhal with striking features. The age related wear is typical and nothing excessive. The paint is beautiful and bright. A scarce kind of item given its 'incompleteness'. A nice addition to any collection.