Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Bavaria, Germany - the center of 15th and 16th century gunmaking
When identifying and dating guns, the basic fact has to be considered that their general shape and form, as well as their decoration, spare though it may be, especially on arsenal arms, reflects the period sense of style; this relates to all arts and crafts alike.
Around 1500, a new Italian style had arrived in the North Alpine German regions, to soon prevail over the older. A change of style does not happen at a sudden blow. In spite of the fact that they became obsolete quite soon, within about three decades, from ca. 1490 to 1520, the fundamental Late Gothic ornaments and forms lived on, for a very long time. They were adopted and carried on, but they also became modified, and more refined.
Nevertheless, the Gothic basics never actually never vanished. E.g., the essential general Gothic sense of style was represented, most of all, by the edged and sided hexagonal or octagonal columns in ecclastical architecture. In the course of the 13th and 14th centuries, beveled vertical ribs were added, and the upper end of the column had to be reinforced - in order to guarantee a sold joint with the vault. It was the rules of static stability that required them to start from a mighty base below, and end up in a massive capital, and in lofty pointed steeples, high above.
In the course of 300 years, from ca. 1200 to 1500, they became more delicate and higher, with their ultimate stylistic perfection achieved by ca. 1480-90.
Their edged hexagonal or octagonal overall appearance was also reflected by the appearance of period barrels.
Cf. author's threads:
Therefore, the study of the fundamental rules and outlines of art history is an indispensable prerequisite. When it comes down to identifying an early firearm barrel, and assigning a narrow span of time to its date of manufacture, ithe best thing is to compare it with other handcrafted items made of the same material. The reason being that until the 1st half of the 16th century, the craftsmen or workshops that made them all were basically the same. Locksmiths must have been the very first master specialists that were asked to make a mechanic action like tinderlock or a matchlock. For both, the basic material was the same: wrought iron, and sometimes cast copper alloy (brass or bronze) - and so were the principles of the respective action. It was all based on tension, meaning springs. For the lock action of a Gothic crossbow, an leaf spring made of horn would do; for the igniting action on a firearm, leaf springs had to get wrought and left to cool, before hammering them to elasticity and resilient power with a few blows. What sounds unbelievable to a 21st century engineer who would resort to the very best quuality of steel, worked out perfectly fine for hundreds of years, and with the low-carbonite iron of those times.
In The Michael Trömner Collection, there are several 16th c. tinder- and matchlocks, including the earliest recorded of their kind, which he acquired from excavations. Two of them were dug up and salvaged from fortified places, and from battlegrounds of ca. 1512 to 1530 - with the tinderholders still cocked, and the leaf springs under tension, for almost half a millennium.
After soaking them in olive oil for weeks, and by a few cautious blows of the hammer, they got off - and released. They still are in perfectly working order - tiny and delicate iron leafs showing all the traces of the hammer that gave them tension.
In the late 15th c., the Renaissance style was first adopted by the City of Nuremberg, which, for centuries, had been the leading market place for trade of all kinds, from spices and cloth to items of arts and crafts. Around 1500, it soon became the style defining and guiding center of development as well of top quality.
As far as the so-called Monk's Gun is concerned, the combined Late Gothic and Early Renaissance main symbolic language is confined to three characteristic patterns of art history which all went down into all handcrafted items:
- the sectioning (German: Abstufungen) of columns, padlocks and gun barrels, as discussed above;
- the running vine pattern (German: Weinlaubranke), unfolding like serpents or flames, and terminating in three bunches of grapes (German: Trauben) each;
- the most simplified and reduced form of a bunch of grapes, the trefoil (German: Trifoliendekor or Dreipass)
Common to all of them is the cypher three.
In the two earliest decades of the 16th c., they were profusely added to fine products of craftsmanship ordered by important wealthy persons.
From the 1520's to the 1550's, they were widely used to decorate all sorts of everyday items. Mainly, however, they were confined to products of metalworks and wood. Consequently, with every craftsman applying them to his product, they soon lost their original rich splendor. By the second half of the 1520's, they are mostly found reduced to their fundamental guiding principle: the trefoil, representing the symbolic cypher three. Metalworks, especially iron, and wood are commonly found struck with these simplified ornaments which are just three dots, or circles by now.
By the mid 1530's, they begin to vanish, along with the Early Renaissance tradition to divide barrels in three sections (cast copper alloy barrels often feature , . Two highly important Nuremberg made Lanndsknecht matchlock arquebuses, the wrought iron barrels double-struck with the well-known workshop mark of "The Master of the Crossed Arrows", as the author has come to call him, and the date 1539. They are the oldest known dated gun barrels to have lost their center section (German: Mittelstück); only the long and pronouncedly swamped muzzle section (German: Mündungskopf) is still divided from the rear or breech section (German: Hinterstück) by filed grooves.
One of them is preserved in the collections of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg (GNM), inv.-no. W 494), the other is in The Michael Trömner Collection.
Around 1540, Nuremberg workshops seem to have completely stopped the sectioning of barrels; they now are octagonal throughout, quite plain and notably swamped at both ends. This is also the period of economic depression for the fine but expensive Nuremberg wrought iron barrels and locks. Founding barrels of copper alloy has almost come to a standstill, and many workshops leave the city, to go east.
This is the beginning of the uprising of Suhl. Since at least the late 1520's, the small Thuringian town has detracted Nuremberg barrelsmiths. Suhl is on its way to become the new and prevailing center of mass production of barrels, locks and complete guns, on a scale hitherto unknown - for centuries to come, and for much less pay than Nuremberg workshops.
In 1564, the Suhl proof is officially defined as a guarantee of quality and reliability, and the proof marks to be struck are set up: the name of the town, SVL, and the hen, representing the district of Hennegau.
Since the 1550's, Nuremberg, still the stylistic leader, has given up striking even the most simplified traces of the trefoil ornament. The symbol of 3 lives on though, until ca. 1600 but in a different decoration.
Attachments, appearing in order:
To PREVIOUS Post:
- two fine tubular tapering padlocks, Nuremberg, ca. 1525-35 (German private collections)
- three fine Nuremberg made cranequins, dated 1532, 1540 and 1545 respectively, and all struck with the workshop mark of "The Master of the Crossed Arrows"; their pediculated trefoliate decoration, depicting the stylized grape bunches retaining their stalks (German: gestielter Dreipass), corresponds exactly to that on the Monk's Gun (German private collection, author's photos)
Attachments to this post, from top:
- details of the decoration on the cranequin dated 1545; the forward section of the ratched bar is additionally punched with a human hand, a magic sign to fend off evil (aportropaiaton); author's photos
- detail of etching on the blade of a hunting sword: running vine pattern; ca.1535-40 (Odescalchi Collection Rome)
- trefoil piecrcings in Gothic architecture
Contemporary historical sources of illustration:
- sword with trefoliate pommel; detail of a painting by Michael Pacher, ca. 1465-70
- a similar sword; detail of a painting of St. Martin; Museum Mühlheim
- key with trefoliate grip, 16th century
- a Late Gothic/Early Renaissance door lock, Southern Germany or alpine regions, the plate retaining its original minium (red lead) paint, the riveted decoration retaining its original fire-tinned surface; ca. 1500 (private collection)