The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Sword
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Italy
  • c. 1555 - c. 1560
  • Iron or steel and silver, blackened, chased
  • Weight: 1.17 kg
    Length: 111.6 cm
    Length: 97.7 cm, blade
    Width: 2.9 cm, blade at guard
    Balance point: 10.5 cm, forward of the guard block
  • Maker's mark Stamped three times
    Maker's mark
  • A623
  • European Armoury II
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Sword, the early Mannerist hilt comprising an urn-shaped pommel; oval, wire-bound grip; curved rear quillon terminating in an urn-shaped knob; knuckle-guard with single cartouche containing a standing figure, and terminating in a mask with rams' horns at the centre chased with a nude figure; hilt-arms, from which projects a short bar terminating in an urn-shaped knob. In the centre of the transverse loop-guard joining the hilt-arms to the quillons is a cartouche containing a recumbent nude female; on the inner side of the hilt-arms is connected by a small loop. The entire hilt is chased in low relief with figures, masks and trophies of arms, encrusted in silver upon a blackened ground. The blade is of flat convex section, with a narrow groove at the forte, is stamped with a maker's mark three times on the blade and once on the ricasso.
    L' Art Ancien, I, no. 26; VIII, no. 982. De Beaumont Catalogue, no. 6 and pl. 4

    The lowest mark is not a crowned m, but a variant of the other marks, which are of a type often found in conjunction with the other so-called 'sickle' mark (cf. A535), e.g. Turin (G 27) and in the Germanisches Museum at Nuremberg (Z.H.W.K., II, 27-8). It also occurs with the wolf mark of Passau (e.g. A659 here), when it is probably a contemporary German forgery. Cf. also Hermitage, Leningrad, no. B537 (p. 246). Boccia and Coelho (1975, Fig. 424) illustrate a comparable hilt in the Musée de l' Armée, Paris (no. J.98), which they call North Italian, about 1560. This seems to have been one of the comte de Nieuwerkerke's favourite pieces. It appears in one of his photographic portraits (see History Today, January 1969, p. 9) and in Vollon's Curiosités of 1868 (Savill, 1980).

    Norman and Barne, 1980, pp. 93, 219 and 360, pI. 27.

    With its compact structure chiselled with grotesque masks and military trophies and encrusted in silver, this rapier demonstrates that such ornate designs were not confined to the pages of contemporary design books but really were made. The hilt of this elegant weapon is as lavish as anything in the design album of Filipo Orsoni (dated 1554; Victoria and Albert Museum) for example, but it is also practical, the decoration having none of the unworkable spikes, spines and thorns in high relief that would make many of the Orsoni swords inconvenient or injurious to wear. Here the complex grotesque scheme has been executed with confidence and panache, while at the same time maintaining an awareness of the need for functionality.

    Although it does not have a forward quillon, as do all of the Orsoni designs, this sword otherwise follows the Orsoni model quite closely, its pommel having a large and very ornate vase- or urn-like form, the terminals of the hilt formed into grotesque heads or more diminutive urns, the centre of the cross set with a monstrous laughing mask. Perhaps the most characteristic feature of the sword is the transverse loop guard, which originates at the top of the rear hilt arm and which travels across diagonally to rejoin the hilt at the root of what would be the forward side of the cross. Since it does not therefore support an upper side-ring, the forward hilt arm instead carries a horizontal piton. Such transverse guards are found on several of the Orsoni hilt designs, and are used as an opportunity to display a prominent ornamental element; here the transverse guard swells in the middle to accommodate a silver medallion bearing the relief image of a reclining nude. This feature is combined the masks, architectural forms, and trophies of arms in the Mannerist style.