CIRCA 1550-60

Circa 1550-60
With straight single-edged blade widening slightly towards the point (slight repair) and with a large rectangular ricasso inlaid on each face with a gilt copper-alloy plaque cast and chased in relief with a trophy of classical arms and armour surmounted by an eagle, within a gold-damascened border of scales and chequers, the back almost to the point formed as a slender fluted and gilt pistol barrel (slight damage), iron hilt with applied cast and chased ornament of gilt copper-alloy, comprising straight quillons of rectangular section terminating in applied lion-masks, and with a large box-like central block containing the wheel-lock mechanism (trigger and possibly other parts missing), simple knuckle-guard en suite, with applied central grotesque head wearing an ornamental crown and with an applied silver bucranium on a scroll at the tip, slightly tapering tubular grip with applied central ferrule formed of four cartouches bearing bearded human masks, and gilt copper-alloy pommel cast and chased as a horned lion's head, the background throughout blued and gold-damascened with a pattern of scales each framing a palmette or an arrow-head, in wooden scabbard covered with green velvet (rubbed) with iron mounts comprising shaped chape and mouth-locket, and oval central locket, the last two carrying suspension-rings, the backs etched and gilt with strapwork framing a mask and figures of classical warriors, and the fronts blued and damascened en suite with the hilt and each set with a large silver-gilt plaque chased with scenes after designs by Etienne Delaune, representing respectively Moses striking water from the rock, Minerva seated on a trophy of arms and armour, and Perseus mounted on Pegasus turning King Polydectes into stone by showing him Medusa's head
25 in. (63 cm.) blade
Rothschild inv. no. AR3381a.
J.F. Hayward, The Art of the Gunmaker, London, 1962, vol. 1, pp. 98-9.
Idem, The Art of the Gunmaker, 2nd edn., London, 1965, vol. 1, pp. 106-7.
B. Thomas, O. Gamber and H. Schedelmann, Arms and Armour, Masterpieces by European Craftsmen from the Thirteenth to the Nineteenth Century, London, 1964, no. 41.
H. Schedelmann, Die Grossen Bchsenmacher, Brunswick, 1972, pp. 10-11, pl. 19.
W. Hoffmann, Zauber der Medusa, Europische Mannerismus, Vienna, 1987, p. 217, no. 38.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Fhrer durch die Sammlungen, Vienna, 1988, p. 410.
O. Gamber and C. Beaufort, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien. Katalog der Leibrstkammer, II, Busto Arsizio, 1990, pp. 180-1, pl. 118.
W.E. Flewett, 'Leonardo, the Goldsmith, and the "Playthings of Princes"', Journal of the Arms and Armour Society, London, XVI, no. 1, September 1988, pp. 34-39 and 49-50, pl. 12.
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv. no. A 2248, from 1967.

Lot Essay

This belongs to a small group of such weapons described by the late John Hayward as representing 'the highest achievement of the Renaissance sword-cutler and gunmaker'. Three other closely similar pistol-swords are recorded, of which one is the following Lot in this sale. The others are respectively in the Muse de l'Arme, Paris (inv. no. PO 2838), and the Russell B. Aitken Collection, New York. Neither of these has a scabbard. Nothing is known of the early history of any of them, although their superb quality leaves no doubt that they were made for high-ranking members of the French court: 'ung coustellatz portant ung pistollet' listed in the 1558 inventory of goods of the deceased Anne de Montmorency, Grand Constable of France may in fact refer to one.

The wheel-lock mechanism is concealed inside the quillon-block, the only external signs of its existence being a hole for the spanner to engage the wheel-spindle, the heads of two catches for respectively opening the pan and holding the cock against the wheel (in lieu of a spring), and the trigger. The mainspring is spiral and contained in the grip

Similar compact wheel-locks with spiral springs also occur on a group of closely related French pistol-axes and maces, which are almost certainly all from the same workshop. One of these, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. can be identified in the inventory of King Louis XIII's Cabinet d'Armes, and probably belonged originally to King Henri II, for whose father, King Francis I, Leonardo da Vinci was working at the time of his death in 1519. One of the famous designs for wheel-locks by the latter in the Codex Atlanticus in the Ambrosian Library, Milan (folio 56v.b., 158r. in the new facsimile edition) involves a spiral spring, and it has been suggested that this may have inspired the production of this remarkable group of combination weapons. It has also been suggested that Leonardo was the inventor of the wheel-lock system of ignition (see J.P. Reverseau, Muse de l'Arme, Paris, Les armes et la vie, Paris, 1982, pp. 92-3; idem, Armes Insolites, Muse de l'Arme, Paris, 1990, pp. 56-59).

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