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19th C. Indonesian Damascan Steel Kris

Southeast Asia, Indonesia, ca. 19th century CE. A lovely example of a kris (keris) with a gorgeous carved hardwood handle with flower-and-leaf-shaped designs. The sheath is a highly-polished wood with wonderful dark veins of color running throughout and features a dramatically-curved top portion. The Damascan steel blade itself has a straight profile, unlike its typical wavy counterparts, with a two-toned appearance made from multi-colored bands of folded metal. A circular brass disc with bulb and cone designs separates the blade from the intricately-carved handle. A beautiful example with an unusual form. Size with sheath: 18.25" L x 6.5" W (46.4 cm x 16.5 cm); length of blade: 12.625" L (32.1 cm).

The kris is both a weapon and a spiritual object. The oldest known are from the 10th century CE; they are thought to have originated on the island of Java. The bladesmith, called an empu, formed the blade from layers of different iron ores and meteorite nickel. In high-quality examples, the metal is folded dozens or even hundreds of times. Kris were worn every day and in special ceremonies; both men and women wear them. They were passed down through families. They were used for display, as talismans with magical powers, and weapons, and as heirlooms, as accessories for ceremonial dress, and indicators of social status. Kris blades are narrow, with wide, symmetrical bases. The aesthetic value has three elements: dhapur, the shape and design of the blade, with 40 variants; pamor, the pattern of metal alloy decoration on the blade, with 120 variants; and tangguh, the age and origin of kris. In 2005, the kris became a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Condition: Top and bottom portions of sheath have been reattached. Surface wear commensurate with age and use, earthen deposits inside carved grooves in handle, and tarnish to brass separation disc.

Provenance: private Rochester, Michigan, USA collection

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