The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Scimitar
  • Daniele da Serravalle
  • Milan, Italy
  • c. 1550 - 1560
  • Steel, wood and gold, gold inlay, pierced, chiselled, blued and damascened
  • Length: 70.6 cm, blade
    Width: 3.4 cm, blade, at guard
    Weight: 1 kg
    Length: 86.6 cm
    Width: 12 cm, guard
    Balance point: 15.3 cm, forward of the guard block
  • Inscription: 'D S'
    Maker's mark: Crowned M, Milan city mark
  • A708
  • European Armoury I
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Sabre, the hilt composed of a flattened pear-shaped pommel of steel chiselled in high relief with nude, seated figures supporting a coronet, enclosing small figures of horsemen on either face, and at the sides strapwork forming the letter H; oval grip bound with gold and steel wire, the latter arranged as roping and other interlaced bands; diagonally curved guard terminating in nude seated figures, pierced, and in high relief, bearing a crown or coronet; escutcheon also enriched with gold inlay; curved blade, single-edged and hollowed, the surface russeted and overlaid with arabesques and a shield of arms in gold; the back-edge slightly cusped in two places and overlaid in gold with undulating scrolls; the ricasso bears the letters D S, and maker's marks belonging to Daniele da Serravalle, a Milanese swordsmith active in the middle of the 16th century. The arms, which are overlaid in gold on a plane near the point, are those of Anjou-Sicily and Jerusalem impaled. Charles II, Count of Maine (d. 1481), was the last legitimate male of the second Angevin house of Sicily, and instituted Louis XI his heir. The arms were revived by Louis XII (1498-1515), King of France, Sicily and Jerusalem, who conquered Naples in 1501, but there is no evidence of their being impaled after the death of Louis XII in 1515. If the H is significant, this fine weapon may have belonged to Henri II of France.

    Italian (Milanese), about 1560

    Provenance: E. Juste? (Épée ciselée à figures en rond bosse et dorée, 2,500 fr.; Receipted bill, 14 January, 1867); Comte de Nieuwerkerke?

    The description in Juste's bill might also refer to no. A685.

    Other swords signed in this way by Daniele da Serravalle of Milan are at Vienna (Böeheim, Führer, nos. 461, 462); at Dresden, E92a and b; G 154; Madrid G 34, sword of Charles V; Musée de l' Armée, Paris, J 192; Musée de l' Armée, Brussels, XVI, 3; Museo Stibbert, nos. 5, 4764; and at Turin G 61. A sword inscribed DANIEL DE SERAVALE... IN MILANO...1560, was in the collection of Mr. S. J. Whawell (Laking, European Armour IV, fig. 1374).

    The maker’s marks on the curved blade of this royal sword, the initials ‘DS’ and the crowned M of the forge of the castle of Milan, indicate that it was made in Milan by Daniele da Serravalle, one of that city’s great masters, probably between 1550 and 1560. Serravalle took over from Vincenzo Figino as head of the Maglio del Castello in 1546; this fine sword cannot, therefore, have been made before that date.

    Such exotic arms seem to have been one of Serravalle’s specialities; ‘9 scimitarre’ are listed along with a great many other swords and rapiers in the post-mortem inventory of his workshop (14 January 1567), now in the state archives in Milan. The hilt has been pierced, chiselled, and inlaid with gold, forming a decorative scheme involving a very complicated arrangement of horsemen, crowns, and pseudo-Classical figures, while the strapwork on the pommel has been carefully arranged to form King Henri’s personal ‘H’ monogram.

    The curved blade is decorated over its whole length (apart from the cutting edge) on each side with overlay in gold forming delicate scrolling vines framed within a dashed and dotted border. Such blade decoration was unusual in the extreme, emphasising the exotic nature of the piece, although it is found in fact on a number of other fine Milanese swords of the time. It may have been a signature feature of the Milanese master bladesmiths; closely similar blade damascening is also found on the rapier made in Milan for Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol, to accompany his ‘Milanese’ armour , and on the three Milanese rapiers mounted with baluster-turned hilts in Dresden. However on these the gold decoration is restricted to the ricasso, as seems to have been most usual, while on Ferdinand II’s rapier it continues only as a narrow band down the middle of the blade. Only the Serravalle scimitar blade is covered in gold vines overall.

    Despite its rich ornament this sword remains a perfectly practical fighting tool. Nevertheless, King Henri would probably only have used the sword as a costume accessory; perhaps it was worn at some important parade or diplomatic occasion, assuming it was finished before the King’s unexpected death in 1559 as a result of a jousting accident.

    ‘Maestro Daniel Serravalo’ is recorded as having had charge of the management of the hammer-mill in the Castle of Milan from 1549 for fifteen years, at an annual wage of 168 scudi for himself and for his two assistants. A second document of 18 June 1565 describes him as being dead. (Gelli and Moretti, 1903, pp. 16-17). These documents do not, however, make clear whether Serrevalle was an armourer or swordsmith, but according to Boccia and Coelho, the Medicean inventories include reference to a number of swords marked 'D S' which are therein described as 'del Serrevalle vecchio' or 'di Serrevalle' (1975, p. 366, n. 328). His relationship to Giovanni Battista Serabaglio or Serrevalle, the supplier of the ‘Milanese Garniture’ to Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol, is uncertain (Vienna, Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer, inv. nos. A746, 747, 782, 785, 785a, b and c, and 805). The sword at Madrid (no. G38), mentioned in the 1962 Catalogue, is decorated to match an armour, also in the Real Armeria (no. A 159-63), which is thought to have been paid for in 1546 (Boccia and Coelho, 1975, figs. 328 and 330 respectively). A falchion blade bearing these marks, fitted with guards of about 1550-60, is in the Farnese armoury at Capodimonte (no. 3724; Boccia and Coelho, 1975, fig. 543, wrongly dated 1600-10). The sword in the Musée de l' Armée (no. J.192) came from the Condé armoury at Chantilly. Its present hilt is of the early 17th century. A sword of about 1560 from an old Zurich family, with both sets of marks on the blade, is now in the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum, Zurich (inv. no. LM11681; 1980 cat., no. 216). A second blade at Dresden, mounted in a much later hilt, bears both marks and the initials (1899 cat., no. E100; Schöbel, 1975, pI. 68). Yet another blade is in the Musée de Cluny, Paris (no. CL11812). The initials and the second mark occur on a dagger said to have been found in the Vendée, formerly in the collection of comte Raoul de Rochebrune (1900 cat., pl.XXI, no. 5), and now in the Musée Dobrée, Nantes. In some cases the two marks occur without the initials, as on a sword in the Real Armería at Madrid, no. G33, which, it has been suggested, belongs to the armour 'de los mascarones relevados' of 1539 (no. A139 in the same armoury). It is possible that this indicates that the blade was made in the workshop of Serravale, but not by his own hand (Boccia and Coelho, 1975, fig. 367, n. on p. 369). The sword in Vienna with a hilt signed by Damianus de Nerve (Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer, inv. no. A586; Boccia and Coelho, 1975, figs. 375 and 376, n. on p. 370) bears only the second mark without any initials, as does a falchion with a blade etched with hunting scenes after Virgil Solis, Hans Brossamer, Heinrich Aldegrever, and others, in the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad (C. Mezentseva, 'Graphic sources for the ornamentation of a 16th-century German sabre', Reports of the Hermitage Museum, XXXV, 1972, pp. 20-25). The sword and dagger at Vienna, mentioned in the comparative material in the 1962 Catalogue, do bear the mark of the crowned M, but without a maker's mark on the sword blade, and with two initials, perhaps TB, on the dagger blade (Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer, inv. nos. A794-5). Boccia and Coelho (1975, figs. 405-6, n. on p. 374) describe the sword as having a maker's mark consisting of the initials VF flanking a column with a crown above it, all in a shield-shaped compartment. They identify this as possibly that of Vincenzo Figino, the predecessor of Serravale in the mill at the Castle of Milan. This is an error. The VF mark occurs on Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer inv. no. A515, but not on no. A794. The fully signed and dated sword, formerly in the Whawell collection, cited in the 1962 Catalogue, is now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (no. 1973.27.2). Its construction does not inspire confidence in its authenticity.