LEFT HAND SAIL-LIKE DAGGER
Napoli primo quarto del XVII Secolo
Material: Forged iron
Size: 46 cm long
review by gherardo turchi
An ancient left-hand dagger called “sail-like”, which was made in one of those flourishing workshops of swordsmiths active in Naples during the first quarter of the seventeenth century.
With the term dagger, we mean those manual weapons within a length between 40 and 70 cm, made from the seventeenth century on, en suite with swords and stripes, as supporting weapons in combats; they served to engage the opposing blade with the use of an additional blade too, held with the opposite hand compared to the one of the sword, usually the left one.
Daggers were of various types over the centuries, with special sizes and various names, usually due to their shape or place of production, and that we can find in specialized books. The late sixteenth-century daggers provided a rather simple model, with two curved parade arms and a ring, typically used as a truncating blade.
During the first years of the XVII century, with the thinning of the blades of the swords and the introduction of the fretworked cup-hilt sword, the dagger conception underwent a substantial change too. That revolution took place in the city of Naples where, following the influence of Spanish fashion, from which such improvements derived, great swordsmiths replaced the guard rings with triangular-shaped metal plates, onto which they made refined and valuable fretworks and embossings.
The triangular shape gave then the name to this new type of dagger, recalling the shape of the sails mounted on the boats that constantly served as a shuttle between the Kingdom of the “Two Sicilies” as it was called, and the Spanish Empire. During the first quarter of the seventeenth century, left-handed sailing daggers were created. The hand guards got a straight shape, the blades were thinner and made with spooned bolt handles starting from the tang up to three-quarters of their length; the handles and the knobs and the guards became real conquest grounds for engravers and decorators. Everything aimed at letting these types of daggers be not only simple weapons but real jewels to show off and bring with pride along with the retinue.
Often the guard valves were further enriched with internal counter valves, useful either to further protect the hand from possible blows or to increase the decorative surface on which to continue the work of decoration, repeating on these last the motifs already present on the pommels and the external guards. The decoration then continued on the hand guards, often perforated, on which three-dimensional motifs had the maximum of their artistic expression.
This latter kind of weapon is the one described here. With a thin double-edged blade for two-thirds of its length, this weapon has a reinforced tang on the side of which there is a groove for the thumb, used for a firmer hold in a fight.
The blade also has a deep blood groove that runs, on both sides, for the first half as a counterpart to the edge, while the tang has two perforations at the junction, used generally as blade cutters in the event of a possible counter blow. The mountings are made up of two long perforated handguards decorated with vegetable spirals, the same motif which is repeated on the large sail-like valve protecting the hand, as well as on the counter-sail-like part inside, ending on the upper part of the pommel, to create a decorative continuum that runs along the entire weapon. Finally, the pommel is made of torchon-carved wood covered with a thin braided iron wire ending, on both sides, in two Turkish heads also made of iron wire.
This work is well preserved and it represents a significant addition to the catalog of weapons made in the seventeenth century for that group of noblemen and high bourgeois in Naples, who loved art and beauty in the field of fighting, too.