Object Title

Sword hilt

Sword hilt



Object Number



Purchased from the collection of the late Sir James Mann, 1981. Formerly AL.23 100.

Physical Description

Cast bronze, chased and patinated to a dark lusterous brown. The hilt is made in one piece, and consists of a pommel in the form of a whiskered male Oriental head, the face turned upwards and slightly inwards; the grip is decorated in well-developed auricular style; on each face in the area towards the blade is a grotesque face, its eyes pierced by a tightly bound fillet. The part of the grip immediately adjacent to the pommel is formed by the upper part of the Oriental's torso, the place of his shoulders being taken by scrolls. The quillons which are slightly recurved in the plane of the blade are formed as pig's legs and trotters, while the side-ring outside the hand is formed as a pig's curly tail.
[NOTE - GR will change this description to incorporate his observations on iconography (following Avery 1982) incorporated into Richardson and Rimer 1997]

The missing blade seems to have been secured by means of a transverse peg or screw inserted into the end of the grip on the opposite side to the side-ring.


Dimensions: Height: 150 mm, width: 120 mm, depth: 65 mm Weight: 750 gm

Bibliographic References

C. Avery, 'Two ornamental bronzes from the Medicean Grand-Ducal Workshop around 1600', Burlington Magazine, CXXIV (1982), esp. pp. 429-30, figs 38, 40, 41.

Royal Armouries Official Guide, 2nd (rev'd) edn, London, 1993, p. 40, left (col. ill., hilt and associated blade - 'attributed to Pietro Tacca, about 1640').

M.D. Coe et al., Swords and Hilt Weapons, London, 1989, pp. 79 (ill.), 80 (chapter by A.R.E. North).

T. Richardson and G. Rimer, Treasures from the Tower in the Kremlin, Moscow, 1997, cat. no. 60, pp. 154-55 (col. illus. - gen. view), 196 (b. & w. illus. - gen. view, as before, but smaller) - 'Italian, Florence, about 1640'.

Charles Avery, Jean Bologne: La Belle endormie, Galerie Piltzer, Paris, April 2000, illus, no. 32 (pommel from the front) and no. 33 (Hilt from the side, caption reads 'Jean Bologne, pommeau d'epee' (for further inf. see Notes).


Attributed by Dr Charles Avery, formerly of Department of Sculpture, Victoria and Albert Museum, to Pietro Tacca (1577-1640 - CHK). Tacca, a pupil of Giovanni da Bologna (Giambologna), worked in Florence as court sculptor to the Grand Dukes of Tuscany (Avery 1982, pp. 429-30; North in Coe, 1989, 80).
Avery suggested that the form of the head is similar those on some large cannon cast in the 1640s by Tacca's colleage Cosimo Cenni for the galleys of the Medicean fleet of the Knights of Santo Stefano. The form of the head is regarded sylistically as a Turkish one, represented in other work by Tacca in monumental bronze figures of galley slaves at the foot of a statue in Livorno commemorating Ferdinando I. Similar heads are among the motifs on carved panels taken from the galleys of the Knights of Santo Stefano and preserved in the church of the Order in Pisa. The Master of the Order was the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Avery suggests that this hilt, because of the form of its decoration, might have been made either for one of the Knights or even perhaps for the Grand Duke himself. (last two paras drawn largely from entry by G. Rimer in Richardson and Rimer 1997).
It has been suggested on a number of occasions that this hilt comes from a statue. The method of attaching the blade makes this somewhat unlikely since presumably the body of the statue would prevent, or make very difficult, the peg or screw.
Two similar hilts are recorded. One formerly in the Ubaldo Collection, with similar grip and pommel but different quillons (see A. Dabsi, drawings of this collection in Castello Sforzesio, Milan, 'Armi lunghe a taglio', no. 16 (inf. A.V.B.Norman, Oct. 1982). The other formerly in the collection of F.H.C. Day who annotated his copy of the Ubaldo sale catalogue (21 May 1869, Lot 53): 'This is exactly like mine.' (inf. A.V.B. Norman, 23 April 1984 who suggested that Day's hilt and IX.2156 might be one and the same).
Charles Avery (Avery 2000), text (p.51): 'The little head on the Dresden couch may also be meant to have vaguely 'Moorish' features and these reappear on a brilliant piece of decorative art that I attributed some years ago to Giambologna's successor as court-sculptor Pietro Tacca (plates 25-26). This is a uniquely decorated sword-hilt cast in bronze, which has for its pommelthe head of a Moorish galley-slave - such as drove the galleys of the Knights of San Stefano that patrolled the Mediterranean Sea from their base in Livorno. When looked at full-face, this can be seen to be an extrapolation from the minute head on the couch of the Sleeping Woman. Indeed, so well imagined and so finely modelled is the sword-hilt that, in view of this newly discovered relationship with a work that is documented virtually to Giambologna's own hand, one now begins to wonder if it might not infact have been wrought by the master - at least as far as the stage of a model in wax - and not by his pupil, Tacca.' [BC 11.05.00]