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Old 3rd December 2008, 07:19 PM   #22
Jim McDougall
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Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
Posts: 6,698

As always, I am completely captivated by these wonderful illustrations, especially as they show us the dynamics of how these early firearms might have appeared in use. I very much enjoy being part of the class here in learning about these weapons, and excellent questions posed by Fernando with excellent observations and explanations by Michael, Fearn and Richard. Never having studied these firearms, it is great to have such detail brought in discussion....much better than trying to wade through technical detail in books!

From my perspective, I always enjoy looking for symbolism and clues in art, which might relate to weapons and historic perspective of the times. I hope by noting some things I have noticed it will not deviate from the course of this excellent discussion, and simply stand for reference by those who might find interest in these other perspectives.

First, I am intrigued by the allegoric theme of the artwork using the skeletons with weaponry, and other symbolic elements of the illustrations. Apparantly the theme of the dance macabre and that of the 'Dance of Death' works by Hans Holbein (the younger) in 1530-1547, and ranks of marching skeletons by Brueghel, were reflective of the allegories of death personified by animate skeletons in European art.
The terror of the deadly plagues, collectively termed 'the Black Death' in the previous century were still in the thoughts of these artists, and in noting the skeleton firing the crossbow, the allusion of death by plague was represented by being shot with arrows.
At the top of the coffin, there is a clearly marked scorpion, which apparantly in the middle ages, as 8th sign of the zodiac, 'scorpio' , represented the period of mans life which lies under the threat of death (the fall). This is but one view of the certainly more complex associations with death held by the scorpion (this one from "A Dictionary of Symbols", J.E.Cirlot, 1962,p.280) but interesting in its key placement in the painting.

It is interesting that the scorpion was a well known makers or perhaps guild marking on Italian bladed weapons from about 1530's to about 1600 (see "Armi Bianchi Italiene" Boccia & Coelho, 254,310, 447,455) which possibly referred to the deathly potential of these, much in the sense of the deadly Indian dagger 'bichwa' (=scorpions sting).

The bizarrely colorful attire of the Landsknechts has interesting note as well, as from what I understand this wild appearing clothing developed from these troops sometimes taking clothing from dead opponents, as well as items of thier own being slashed or torn in battle. These battle worn elements served as distinguishing marks of a seasoned, and presumably fierce (by the simple fact of surviving) warrior. The flamboyant colors and tattered battle clothing, sometimes even bloodied, issued psychological effect upon opponents.

It is intriguing to view these paintings as contemporary illustrations of these symbolic elements, in addition to considering the accuracy of weapon forms and components, which as noted, were often not as carefully portrayed as the detailed symbolism added by the artist.

While enjoying learning more on the firearms (such as the keen detail of noting position of the rear sight on the barrel in determining period) I just wanted to share notes on what I have taken from this wonderful art.

Thank you so much Michael! and Fearn, Richard, and Fernando for the detailed and fascinating discussion.

All the best,
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