Vietnamese Kiem straightsword
Region: Tonkin, Vietnam
Period: Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945 ) Late 19th century.
Materials: Steel, Iron, Silver, Wood, Horn (bubalus bubalis), Mother of Pearl
An iconic sword among Vietnamese arms is the ‘Kiem’ straight sword. Stylistically based on the Chinese ‘Jian’ straight sword, the Kiem seems to be generally used for ceremonial purpose and implication of elite rank among scholars and government officials. These sword tend to be made very lavishly with precious materials such as rosewood, ivory, horn, repoussé silver and mother of pearl. The blades are often quite common, functional, but not made for battle. Kiem swords are straight, often with a large silver hilt with two pronouncing quillons functioning as a guard. The hilts are long stretched and decorated with a silver pommel. The hilts are commonly made of elephant molar tooth, ivory, wood or as on this example, domesticated buffalo horn.
During the Nguyen Dynasty, dignitaries and scholars were accompanied by personal bodyguards and personnel, who carried ‘Guom’ and ‘Kiem’ swords. A typical feature is the very fine craftsmanship of silver which is often attributed to the workshops of Tonkin. Variably from standard floral motifs and foliage to elaborately chiseled flowers, animals and motifs as we see here.
Consisting of a fine silver guard, horn hilt and silver pommel which is riveted to the blade. The guard shows a very fine repoussé scene of magpie’s, locust and lotus flowers interspersed with bamboo and foliage. The horn hilt is straight, slightly oval shaped and decorated with a rivet with an attached floral shaped silver washer on both sides. The pommel is decorated with a falcon or eagle holding its prey.
Simple, yet sharpened and decorated with a stylized engraved motif. The blade is double edged, straight with a medial ridge ending in a rounded tip. The blade is well forged, flexible and even functional which is hardly encountered on sword like these.
Lavishly decorated with silver fittings holding two slabs of wood which are inlayed with a very fine arabesque scenery of fruits and leaves. The locket depicts a cockerel surrounded by bamboo, peony and vines. The mid section shows two scenes; a crane and an emerging lotus flower. The chape shows a fine pattern of tree branches and lotus with a parrot or parakeet in the center.
Condition: Very good, all in good order, some small minor pieces of mother of pearl missing on the scabbard, further in fine condition.
Hilt length: 20.5cm
Blade length: 67.1cm
Blade spine thickness: 3mm
Total length: 97cm
Provenance: Belgium Art Market
– Antiques by the Sea sold archive 2022: A ‘Guom’ sabre with similar quality mounts.
– Metropolitan Museum of Arts New York, acc.nr. 36.25.1451a, b
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