The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Crossbow
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • South Germany
  • c. 1487 - 1500
  • Steel, antler, wood, gold, iron, paint, parchment, cord and leather, gilded and carved
  • Length: 72 cm
    Length: 59.6 cm, span of bow
    Weight: 4.4 kg
  • Maker's mark
  • A1032
  • European Armoury I
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Crossbow. The steel bow is covered with gilt parchment painted with eight-petalled, conventional flowers in red and bound to the stock with a bridle of entwined cord and leather thongs; gilt iron ring at the top. It retains its original bow-string of twisted cord. The stock or tiller is of wood wholly veneered with plates of polished antler carved in relief with figures and coats of arms, the arms of the owner alone being painted in the flat. The stock is pierced with a steel pin with gilt ends (to engage the claw of the rack), and furnished with steel trigger (bearing the maker's mark), a steel plate upon which to rest the thumb when discharging the piece, a revolving nut of horn, a V-shaped foresight which is slotted and permitting of lateral movement (no doubt to allow for windage). It was spanned by engaging the string in the revolving barrel or nut which was then released by the trigger.

    The subjects of the carving on the sides and underpart of the stock are: (1) at the fore-end St. George in armour standing on the Dragon under a Gothic canopy with roped styles, with the arms of Bavaria (chequy lozengy azure and argent) below. On either side of him are (2) the Emperor Maximinus ordering the beheading of St. Catherine; and on the other side (3) three men, two of them fighting with longswords. Below this comes a row of carved and painted shields encircling the stock, except on the upper side: (a) azure, a crowned lion passant regardant to sinister argent, (b) Bindenschild of Austria (gules, a fesse argent), (c) azure two bars argent, perhaps intended for Hungary ancient which is a barry of eight argent and gules, (d) gules, a horn argent, (e) azure, a fesse with three stars in chief argent, (f) azure or sable, a crescent argent (perhaps for Woellworth of Wurtemburg), (g) azure, a cross paté rising from a mound for Hungary modern, the field gules. Painted, not carved, on the top of the stock, are the quartered arms of Völs -Colonna, its former owners.

    Below the binding of the nut on the left side are (4) a fool playing bagpipes; (5) a young woman being enticed by Folly from Wisdom; and on the other side (6) three armed men, two showing their backs, the centre one in full Gothic armour, possibly connected with (8) below; (7) a girl between two young men; on the other side (8) the martyrdom of St. Sebastian; (9) three nude figures, a male between two females; (10) Adam and Eve. Running along the underside under the trigger-guard are (11) entwined dragons, and on one side (12) a stag-hunt led by a horseman in armour and hounds, and a representation of St. George and the dragon.

    The identification of the arms is qualified by the probability that some of the tinctures may have been altered at a later date.

    German (Bavarian), about 1450-70.

    The subjects carved in relief on this remarkable bow strongly resemble in manner engravings by the Master E, S., c. 1460, and his follower, Israhel van Meckenem, but there is no exact correspondence.

    H. Wagner, Trachtenbuch des Mittelalters, Munich, 1830, Part 2, pl. VIII; Skelton II, pls. XCVI, XCVII; Meyrick Catalogue, no. 25; Laking, European Armour III, fig. 938.

    Provenance: Fels; Sir S. R. Meyrick.

    The castle of Völs is near Bozen (Bolzano) in South Tyrol. The Völs family are first recorded in Tyrol in the 12th century, became Freiherren in 1638, and counts in 1712. A branch was established in Bohemia in 1572. Christoph Leopold Colonna von Fels was Grand Huntsman (K. K. Jagdmeister) of Silesia, about 1700. Like other Tyrolese families, including Trapp of Churburg, they adopted as an augmentation the arms of Colonna of Rome without being related by blood.

    The lever-trigger acts directly on the underside of the nut without any intervening mechanism. A fragment of the cow-horn spring remains by which the bolt was held in position. The mark is in neither Støckel nor Neue Støckel, but it resembles No. 6404 on p. 1456 in the latter, described as a Hausemark.
    Exhibited: Manchester Art Treasures, 1857 (Planche, 1857, p. 15); South Kensington, 1869, no. 2 (The Illustrated London News, LIV, 1869, p.224, no.20).

    Provenance: Völs family. The family castle near Bozen is called Prössels (Graf Trapp, loc. cit.).