Neapolitan Swordsmith

Napoli XVII Secolo

Material: Iron

Size: cm 57 x 29

review by gherardo turchi

Ancient left-hand dagger called “sail-like”, made in those flourishing workshops of swordsmiths active in Naples during the seventeenth century.

With the term dagger, we identify those manual weapons within a length between 40 and 70 cm, made from the seventeenth-century en suite with swords and stripes, as supporting weapons in combats to engage the opposing blade even with the use of an additional blade, 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. The late sixteenth-century daggers provided a rather simple model, with two curved parade arms and a ring, typically used as a truncated blade. During the first years of the XVII century, with the thinning of the blades of the swords and the introduction of the fret worked cup-hilt sword, the dagger conception underwent a substantial change too; that revolution was born in the city of Naples where, following the influence of Spanish fashion from which such improvements derived, large swordsmiths replaced the guard rings with triangular -shape metal plates, on which they made refined and valuable fretworks and embossings. The triangular shape gave thus the name to this new type of daggers, 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 born. The trigger-guards get a straight shape, the blades are thinner and made with spooned bolt handles that start from the tang up to three-quarters of their length, the handles and the knobs and the guards become real conquest grounds by 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 and to increase the decorative surface on which to continue the work of decoration, often continuing on these last the motifs already present on the pomes and the external guards. Other times but rarely, because the work was much more difficult, the valve is engraved and decorated on both sides, and the decoration, much more pronounced, is performed with a double positive technique, so the chiseled part finds a match on both sides. The decoration then continues on the trigger-guards, often perforated, on which three-dimensional motifs have 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, the 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, decorated with thin circular engravings and accompanied by two truncated slots at the external ends. The fret worked trigger-guards have decorations with intertwined phytomorph motifs culminating in rosettes at the ends. The pommel and the handle are finely perforated and engraved with floral motifs, to form a decorative unicum with the valve. The decoration of the handle is particularly refined, and from its fretwork, the red velvet covering the wooden part inside is visible.

This work, from the private collection of Luigi Marzoli, as seen from the plate with the inventory number of the collection itself, is well preserved. The significant provenance documents how the weapon is of excellent workmanship, being part – the best weapons chosen by Marzoli- of his private collection, and not among those in the weapons museum he created in Brescia.

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