The Wallace Collection

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Rapier
  • Rapier
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Hilt- England; blade- Germany
  • c. 1605 - 1615
  • Steel, gold, silver and wood, blackened, encrusted, and damascened
  • Length: 114 cm, blade
    Width: 3.3 cm, blade, above the ricasso
    Weight: 1.29 kg
    Length: 130.6 cm
    Width: 17.3 cm, guard
    Balance point: 15.6 cm, forward of the guard block
  • Inscription: '·SANDRINVS · SCACCHVS·'
    Maker's mark Stamped
  • A596
  • European Armoury III
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Rapier, the very fine hilt comprised of a pear-shaped pommel, hollow and composed of scrolled bands, with button; hexagonal grip of wood bound with copper wire; diagonally curved crossguard also slightly re-curved, of oblong section, ending in a scroll; knuckle-guard, joined to the hilt-arms by a loop-guard, single projecting bar, and transverse guards on the inner side; the entire hilt richly chiselled and gilt with masks, scrolls and festoons of drapery on a darkened ground, also panels in the central parts chased with garlands and trophies of arms fully gilt. The broad, double-edged blade of flattened diamond section, the ricasso stamped on each side with two maker's marks: a bull's head and the letter B crowned, which are those of Jaspar Bongen the Elder, who was working at Solingen about 1620. Compare the mark upon the rapier at Dresden, E. 581, which is inscribed: Jaspar Bongen me fecit Solingen.

    Hayward, 'English swords 1600-1650', Arms and Armor Annual, I, 1973, pp. 142-61, fig. 22; Norman and Barne, 1980, pp. 53, 54, 98, 222, 231, 261 and 335. The general form and the decoration resemble that on the sword by Clemens Horn of Solingen, ascribed to James I, at Windsor Castle (Laking: Windsor, no. 62; European Armour, IV, fig. 1378). Both swords have similar hollow, scrolled pommels and this feature also occurs on swords in the Scott and Burrell Collections at Glasgow, and in the Swedish Royal Armoury at Stockholm (J.F. Hayward, Scottish Art Review, vol. IV, no. 1, 1956, p. 19.)

    In 1963 C. Blair suggested that this hilt might be English and pointed out that the decoration was similar to that on contemporary English guns and crossbows at Madrid, and on the wheel-lock pistol formerly at Belchamp Hall, Essex. A hilt with guards and pommel of identical form is in the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad (Z.O. No. 1025). A pommel and part of the guards identical to those of A595 appear in a portrait of an unknown man, British School about 1610-20, at Welbeck Abbey. Jaspar Bongen is not apparently recorded in the Solingen records. A. Weyersberg believed that the name was borne by a father and son in succession. A blade in the old Electoral Armoury at Dresden, bearing the larger size of mark, is signed JASPAR BONGEN ME FECIT SOLINGEN (1899 Cat., no. E581; Weyersberg, Solinger Schwertschmiede, 1926, pp. 13-14).

    Distinct in style from the work of the larger Italian and German sword-producing centres, these two beautiful swords are exceptionally rare examples of Jacobean swordsmithing. They are robust yet refined, exemplifying, like the English basket-hilt, the domestic taste for a combination of strong construction and stout ornament. In his work An Illustrated Catalogue of Weapons and Detached Specimens of Armour from the Collection of Wm. Meyrick (1861), William Meyrick, the cousin and heir of the great arms and armour scholar Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick, stated that the hilt and pommel of the richer of these two rapiers (A596; embellished with gold as well as silver) had been ‘recently dug up at Saffron Walden’ in Essex. The parts were cleaned, the decoration refreshed and a ‘suitable blade’ added, to form the fragments into a complete weapon. Although now in a restored state, this fine rapier remains an important example of the type of sword fashionable at the court of King James I (reigned 1603-25). It is closely similar in design and decoration to the other example, which is fitted with an Italian, possibly Brescian blade.

    A number of features mark the hilt of this weapon out as English work of high quality, rather than the product of an Italian or German workshop . The very large pear-shaped pommel is typical of English swords of this period, not just rapiers but also cross-hilted and basket-hilted swords. The rounded quality of the hilt was further emphasised by the oval lozenges forming the cross-guard and forward-guard terminals and placed centrally on the knuckle-bow and loop-guard. The use of these small ovoid plates is again reminiscent of the construction of the English basket-hilt, making the English rapier seem a closer relation to it than to its continental counter-parts. The rich silver encrusting, although not exclusive to English weapons, was nevertheless especially popular in England. It is found on many comparable English swords . The typical decorative scheme found on English encrusted rapier-hilts involves the same masks surrounded with feathers and foliage as found on the basket-hilts, with the addition of lines of silver beads forming rectangular and lenticular panels, sometimes filled with fine foliate scrolls false-damascened in gold, as on the richer of these two examples. The style is also closely comparable to the decoration found on knives bearing London cutlers’ marks . The feathers and masks motif is also found in English domestic interior decoration of the same period.