The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Rapier
  • Possibly Caino
  • Hilt- Milan, Italy; blade- North Italy, possibly
  • c. 1580 - c. 1620
  • Iron or steel and gold, gilded and chiselled
  • Length: 114.1 cm, blade
    Width: 2.8 cm, blade, at top of the ricasso
    Weight: 1.3 kg
    Length: 131.4 cm
    Balance point: 12.5 cm, forward of the guard block
    Width: 18.2 cm, guard
  • Inscription: '·A·S·H·S A·S·H·S A·S·H·S A'
    Inscription: '·A·S·H·S A·S·H·S A·S·H·S A·S'
    Inscription: 'CAINO' and a crown above
  • A608
  • European Armoury III
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Rapier, the very fine swept-hilt made up of a pommel of flattened cylindrical form, with button; oval, wire-bound grip; single curving rear quillon; knuckle-guard, joined by a loop to the hilt-arms, double ring-guards, and plain, gilt transverse guards on the inner side. The pommel is richly chiselled with figures in combat in high relief on a matt gilt ground, the sides with chains and flowers; the edges of the guards are chased and pierced to a chain design; the ends of the quillon and knuckle-guard are finished with oval disks chiselled with scrolled heads; the centres of the guards have panels of combats in relief, and the remaining surfaces are chased with strings of flowers. Blade of flattened hexagonal section, converging to diamond section towards the point, the single groove at the forte incised on one side with the letters:

    ∙A∙S∙H∙S A∙S∙H∙S A∙S∙H∙S A

    and the other:

    ∙A∙S∙H∙S A∙S∙H∙S A∙S∙H∙S A∙S

    The ricasso is incised with the place-name Caino and a crown. Caino blades generally bear, in addition to the name of the North Italian bladesmithing town itself, a crowned S or M/S. See rapiers A516, 559-60, 573, 649, but the inscription is not so boldly stamped. For series of unconnected letters on blades, see A597.

    Exhibited: Musée Rétrospectif, 1865, No. 1846 (Nieuwerkerke). Basilewski sale, Fillet and Delange, Paris, 26 April 1869, lot 30, repr. in cat., ? 1510 fr. (marked catalogue in the Library of the Tower Armouries). Boccia, Rossi and Morin, Armi e armature Lombarde, 1980, pI. 261.

    Illustrated by Vollon in his Curiosités of 1868 (Savill, 1980). A very similar hilt, but not apparently by the same hand, is in the Royal Armouries (no. IX.878; Dufty and Borg, 1974, pI. 26a). Boccia, Rossi and Morin describe the workmanship of the hilt of A608 as Milanese. For the suggestion that the subsidiary incised decoration is German see under A808.

    Chains were a popular motif for the decoration of rapier hilts in the second half of the sixteenth century. The conceit, that an inherently flexible construct could be made inexplicably solid, attracts and captivates the eye. It implies a maker of exceptional skill and an owner of unusual, perhaps even avant-garde tastes. Rapiers of this type are so distinctive that modern scholars have in the past been tempted to attribute them to a particular school or master. Laking asserted that they were of French origin, connecting them with Claude Savigny, a maker and supplier of swords in Tours (documented 1578-95). However he offered no evidence for this proposal, nor did he note (though he illustrated examples of two of the three methods) that there were three very distinct techniques variously employed to create chain effects. The first, fashionable during the 1570s, involved the painstaking piercing and filing of the bars of the swept-hilt so that they appeared to be entirely made up of stout chain-links frozen into the desired shapes. It is likely that most, if not all hilts of this type are Italian . In the second (entirely different) method, actual chains fashioned out of very fine silver links were laid into channels cut into the hilt bars, or onto their edges. Of the three chain techniques, only this one has been seriously argued to be French. The third class of chain hilt, of which this is an excellent example, blends the metalworking technique of the first type with something of the visual effect of the second. Here only the edges of the hilt parts have been filed, pierced and chiselled to resemble chains framing the main parts of the guard. Between the chains are panels containing warriors in combat carved in relief, interspersed with fruit, scrolls, and masks, all of which have been placed against a fire-gilt background. The attribution of this hilt to North Italy is supported by the close similarity between it and other examples of Italian chiselled hilts. Both hilts feature horsemen treated in a very similar way, while such features as the small masks enclosed by pairs of scrolls above and below form secondary points of comparison. The few known hilts of this third type are all now considered to be North Italian.