The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Rapier
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Italy
  • c. 1600 - c. 1610
  • Steel and silver, overlaid and blued
  • Length: 105.4 cm, blade
    Width: 2.9 cm, blade, above the ricasso
    Weight: 1.36 kg
    Length: 122.2 cm
    Width: 18.2 cm, guard
    Balance point: 9.5 cm, forward of the guard block
  • Stamp: Half-moon and shield charged with bars ensigned by a crown over 'M'
  • A630
  • European Armoury III
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Rapier, the semi-swept hilt composed of an oviform pommel, of hexagonal section, with button; flattened octagonal grip of steel; diagonally curved, flat quillons, widening towards the ends; hilt-arms, double ring-guard, and the bars on the inner side crossing in saltire. The entire hilt is blued and richly decorated with birds and delicate arabesques overlaid in silver. The blade of flattened hexagonal section changing to octagonal at the forte, the strong ricasso stamped on each side with a half-moon and a shield charged with bars ensigned by a crown over the letter M, cf. the marks on the rapiers A637 and A643.

    Norman and Barne, 1980, pp. 227 and 359. The hilt is delicately overlaid like A525, A622, and A628. See also A637. The group of marks, which also occurs on A637 and A643, occurs on a blade in the Museo Stibbert. Florence (1975 cat., no. 298). It is there attributed to Milan.

    Of the numerous techniques available to the Renaissance metalworker for the application of precious metals to steel, overlay, also called 'false-' or 'counterfeit-' damascening, or ‘hatching’, was one of the most popular. The difference between ‘true’ and ‘false’ damascening was described in the mid- eighteenth century by Denis de Coetlogon:

    For the first Manner of Damaskeening, it is necessary, the Gravings and Incisions, be made in the Dove-Tail Form, that the Gold and Silver-Wire, which is thrust forcibly into them, may adhere the more strongly.

    The second Method is the most usual, and practis’d by heating the Steel till it changes to a Violet, or blue Colour, hatching it over and across with a Knife; then drawing the Design, or Ornament intended, on this Hatching with a fine Brass Point, or Bodkin. This done, a fine Gold or Silver-Wire is taken, and conducting, or chasing it according to the Figures already design’d, it must be sunk carefully into the Hatches of the Metal, with a Copper Tool.

    While de Coetlogon refers to both techniques simply as ‘damascening’, it is clear that the latter technique had been termed ‘false’ or ‘counterfeit’ as early as the middle of the sixteenth century. The post-mortem inventory of the belongings of King Henry VIII, drawn up immediately after his death in 1547, clearly differentiates objects ‘of Damaskine worke’ from those ‘of counterphet Damaskine worke’. The technique, which seems to have been introduced into Europe at the end of the fifteenth century, probably through Spain and Venice , was being employed in the decoration of all manner of metalwork throughout Europe by the early sixteenth century. It may have originated in India, where it is still known in Hindi as koftgarī (Persian, Kōftgarī).

    Overlay or false-damascening was far more common on European weapons than true inlay or damascening, which remained virtually non-existent in this area until smallswords and spadroons made in India for the European market began to be imported in the eighteenth century. The popularity of false-damascening could in part be explained by the fact that only comparatively small amounts of precious metal were required to produce a very rich impression. The technique could be used to plate a piece entirely in silver or gold foil, or conversely a very full silver or gold colouring could be created using only inlaid wire, formed into tiny twisting vines, branches, leaves and flowers, a method exemplified by this rich looking, but in fact quite modest rapier. Applied to a uncomplicated hilt having only two side-rings and a simple inner guard comprised of two crossed bars, the beautifully conceived and executed composition of spreading, twisting foliage, flowers, and birds nevertheless lends the weapon a dramatic and expensive appearance, although in fact it carries only a very small amount of inlaid silver.