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Northern Europe

Rapier c.1640

Iron and gold | 107.6 cm (length) | RCIN 62994

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  • This sword, with its superbly sculptural hilt, was once thought to be the work of the Florentine goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini. As with the 'Cellini Shield', the tradition was refuted when historic arms and armour came under more serious scrutiny in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the work of the anonymous sculptor of the forged and chiselled iron hilt is of very high quality. The subjects are from the Old Testament Book of Samuel. On one side of the pear-shaped pommel David is depicted beheading Goliath, while on the other he brings his giant opponent's head to Saul. These two scenes are separated by male and female herms. The oval grip has a scene of Samuel anointing David. Next, on one side of the quillon-block (the central point of the two guards or quillons) David is shown making a libation or sacrifice with water brought from the well by the gates of Bethlehem, and on the other Abigail, the wife of Nabal, brings David two flasks. At the centre of the side ring is an oval cartouche with the young David slaying the lion. The quillons terminate in hunched and winged figures of Fame and Time. The details of the figurative scenes are picked out in gold, overlaid on the iron ground. A second tradition attaching to this sword is that it belonged to John Hampden (1594-1643), one of the leaders of the parliamentary opposition to Charles I, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Chalgrove Field. This was claimed by another former owner, the author Pryse Lockhart Gordon (?d. 1834), who had casts made from the reliefs of the hilt by the prolific Scottish cameo artist James Tassie (1735-99); he presented these to friends 'as memoirs of the patriot' (i.e. Hampden). Gordon sold the sword to 'a royal purveyer of virtu, a man of fine taste', namely Walsh Porter (d. 1809), the writer, collector and connoisseur who advised George IV on the decoration of Carlton House. Stamped on the blade with the marks of Clemens Horn of Solingen Catalogue entry from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London 2002

    Reputedly owned by the Patriot John Hampden, Pryse Lockhart Gordon; by whom sold to Walsh Porter; by whom presented to George IV, 12 August 1807.

  • Creator(s)
  • Medium and techniques

    Iron and gold


    107.6 cm (length)