Morocco or Algeria
Late 18th century - early 19th century
Metal, gilded copper, horn, leather and gilded leather, braid (velvet), straps
H. 123 cm; max. width 10 cm (hilt); max. thickness 2 cm
Donated by Mme Veuve Etienne Cournault to the Société des Amis d’E. Delacroix, 1952; transferred to the Musée E. Delacroix in 2002
This large saber or nimcha-a masculine accessory and symbol of tribe and rank-is one of the objects that Delacroix brought back from his trip to Morocco in 1832. The splendid weapons, musical instruments, textiles, and leather and ceramic items owned by the Musée Delacroix came from the collection of Charles Cournault (1815 - 1904), an Orientalist painter to whom Delacroix bequeathed most of his North African souvenirs.
The blade of the saber has three grooves. The manufacturer’s mark is perhaps visible under the hilt whose three quillons are decorated with a rosette motif inlaid with gold and silver threads in a cartouche. A floral and plant design runs around a copper ring encircling the hilt, and there is a beautiful marbled effect on the horn handle. The top of the leather scabbard is encircled by a velvet band on a leather background, onto which the straps for holding or hanging the saber are attached. Its lower part has a gold decoration featuring two floral elements, edged with a net design.
In 1832, Eugène Delacroix traveled to Morocco with the diplomatic delegation of the Comte de Mornay, ambassador extraordinary from King Louis-Philippe to Sultan Moulay Abd-el-Rahman. His trip lasted from January to July, during which time he traveled from Tangiers to Meknes, visiting Algeria and southern Spain on his journey home. Delacroix was so delighted by his discovery of this place "made for painters" with its dazzling light and magical colors that between his return and his death he produced some 80 paintings with North African themes (plus countless sketches). His Oriental scenes, fantasias, military exercises, and portraits of Arabs include scrupulously rendered costumes and accessories: this type of nimcha saber with its hooked pommel, for example, is clearly recognizable near the Soldiers Sleeping in a Guardroom (watercolor, private collection), or hanging behind Chief Mohammed Ben Abu in Delacroix’s portraits of him in watercolor (private collection) and etching (Musée Delacroix).
This saber, like the other Moroccan objects on display at the Musée Eugène Delacroix, was donated to the museum by the grandson of Charles Cournault (1815 - 1904), an Orientalist painter who made several trips to Algeria and with whom Delacroix formed a lasting friendship. He remembered Cournault in his will, bequeathing him "two chests from Morocco" (one of which is in the museum), "and all the objects from Algiers, weapons, clothing, cushions, scarves."
Lee Johnson, "La collection Charles Cournault", in Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art français, 1978, p. 249 - 262
Maurice Sérullaz, Eugène Delacroix, Paris, 1989, p. 456.
« Delacroix, Le voyage au Maroc », exhibition catalog, Paris, Institut du Monde Arabe, 1994.