The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Rapier
  • Rapier
  • Sebastian Hernandez (active between: c. 1560 - 1600) , Swordsmith
  • Toledo, Spain
  • c. 1585 - c. 1600
  • Iron and gold, counterfeit-damascened, fire-gilded and chiselled
  • Length: 105.3 cm, blade
    Width: 2.5 cm, blade, above the ricasso
    Weight: 1.28 kg
    Length: 121.7 cm
    Width: 18 cm, guard
    Balance point: 10.4 cm, forward of the guard block
  • Maker's mark: '·SEBASTIAN / HERNANDES·'
    Stamp: Crowned '3', surmounted by a cross
  • A611
  • European Armoury III
Commentary
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Rapier, the extremely fine swept hilt comprised of a pommel of flattened cylindrical form, with button; grip, with diamond-shaped grooves, bound with iron and gilt wire; single curved rear quillon, terminating in a small disk; knuckle-guard, joined to the arms of the hilt by a loop-guard; side-ring and the usual transverse bars on the inner side are all of oval section; the entire hilt decorated in relief, with conjoined cartouches damascened in gold with scroll-work of great delicacy and minuteness. In the larger cartouches are combats, nude figures, masks and conventional flowers chiselled in low relief and gilt. Although the design is somewhat stiff, the damascening upon it, and upon the inner bars, as well as the chiselled work within the panels, is of the highest quality. Blade of hexagonal section, the single groove at the hilt inscribed with the name of the maker:–

    ∙SEBASTIAN / HERNANDES∙

    The ricasso stamped on one side with the figure 3 crowned and surmounted by a cross. Sebastián Hernández, the elder, was working in Toledo about 1570.

    Compare to A549, also by Sebastián Hernández.

    The blade of the rapier A532 also bears the name of Sebástian Hernández. But the mark is a crowned S/T. In the Real Armería of Madrid is a series of rapiers by Sebastián Hernández the elder, nos. G 53, G 55, G 56, G 65, G 82, and G 192. At Dresden is a rapier which bears the same mark (together with another), inscribed: Johannes Moum (E 445).

    The mark is similar to no. 90 in the list of Toledo swordsmiths published by Francisco Palomares in 1762, which he gives to Sebastián Hernández the Younger (see under A532).

    Chiselled with scenes of warriors in combat, the hilt of this extremely fine weapon is further distinguished by the fact that the tiny figures have been painstakingly fire-gilt, while the ground being blackened. The tiny scenes have then been placed within a framework of connecting cartouches standing in higher relief than the scenes themselves, so as to surround and contain them. The regular, geometric pattern of the cartouches contrasts strikingly with the fluidity of the fighting figures, a contrast further emphasised by minute designs in gold inlaid into the cartouches themselves. These twisting vines are in fact so tiny that it almost requires a magnifying glass to see them properly.

    Such work was incredibly expensive. Enormous sums were frequently poured into the acquisition of fine rapiers, so much so that it became one of the most significant status symbols in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The French writer François Dancie stated in 1623 that the rapier was the ‘finest plume of a great man, without which he cannot be distinguished from a financier, merchant, or burgess, whom the abuse of our times permits to be as well-dressed as he’. Yet fashionable clothing and art sometimes met with opposition from traditionalists. One out-spoken opponent of the art of the finely-decorated rapier was the social commentator Phillip Stubbs, who wrote in his Anatomie of Abuses (1583) that swords ‘clogged with gold and silver’ were ‘an infallible token of vain glorie, and a greevous offence to God’.