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Old 19th September 2016, 10:39 PM   #1
Ed
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Default The Erbach Sword

I was fortunate to own the sword that I am going to share with you. I obtained it from George Douglass, actually his estate after he died back in 1995. I sold it two years ago to the Met where it is on display, or so I am told. George's name might ring a bell for some students inasmuch as his dad, George Sr., was one of the founders of the arms and armor club along with Bashford Dean. In fact, he and Dean went on buying trips to Europe. I bought a number of things from George Jr. and since his interest was not really in the armor and arms area, I suspect that these things were acquired by his dad.

I never owned up to owning it prior to this, now that it's safely at the Met there is no harm. It was evidently fairly well known in some circles; Oakschott told me that he knew of it.

I am going to reproduce the writeup that was done by the Met ages ago. The sword was on display there for a while prior to my obtaining it.

Quote:
Two Hand Sword
Italian and German, about 1550
Steel, iron, gold, wood
Dimensions: length overall, 57 3/4 in. (146.7 cm); blade length, 44 1/8 in. (112.1 cm); weight, 5 lbs. 10.5 oz. (2565 g)

Description:
Two hand sword with gilded and chiseled iron pommel and guard, and a straight double edged steel blade decorated on each side with an etched and gilt frieze and roundel. The pommel is in the form of a flattened sphere and is chiseled in relief with a stylized leafy leonine mask that repeats on both sides. The matching guard has straight quillons and a large horizontal side ring extending out from the center of the guard on both sides. The quillons are chiseled with symmetrical acanthus leaves, have a baluster-like swelling at the midpoint and expand slightly at the ends, where they terminate in a lion head with an open mouth (the stem of a tongue remains in one of the mouths). The side rings are similarly chiseled and have knop in the center. There quillon block is chiseled with a crossed leafy branch motif and has a short triangular extension (ecusson) on both sides. The grip is in three stages: a tapering cylindrical collar of etched and partly gilt iron at the top; a carved wooden grip wrapped in iron wire at the center; and a straight sided flattened cylindrical matching collar of etched and gilt iron at the bottom. Traces of red textile fringe are visible between the edge of the bottom collar and the top of the quillon block. The blade has a short ricasso and a long flat fuller extending to the tip on both sides. An etched and gilt frieze decorates the upper 9 1/2 inches (24.1 cm) of the blade, including the ricasso, on both sides. Each frieze contains a battle of naked men, wearing helmets and armed with swords, clubs, and spears. At the end of each frieze there is a roundel: on one side it contains a man on a leaping horse, probably representing Marcus Curtius; and on the other two figures on foot. Just beyond the roundel on one side the blade is incised with the running wolf mark of Passau. A small deep star-like mark is stamped near the edge of the ricasso on opposite sides of the blade.

Condition:
There is wear to the gilding on both the hilt and blade. The etching on the grip collars is slightly rubbed. Otherwise the condition is very good.

Published References:
The earliest definitive documentation of the sword appears in 1867 in the following publication: General-Catalog der Gräflich Erbachischen Sammlungen im Scholsse zu Erbach (Erbach im Odenwald, 1867), p. 10, no 196, part of the viertes Waffengestelle (fourth weapons rack) located to the right of the entrance of the Rittersaal (knight's chamber or armory).

This repeats in the 1894 edition of the same publication.

The sword is described and illustrated in Hans Müller-Hickler's Bezeichnung der Rüstungen und Waffen im dem Rittersaal Sr. Erlaucht des Grafen Konrad zu Erbach, Erbach i. O., Darmstadt, 1926, based on notes made in 1921, text p. 7 and plate XXXIII, no. 1 and 2 [MMA, A&A library 147.11 M91 Q].

In the photographs accompanying the expanded 1923 typescript version of this publication [MMA, A&A library 147.11 M912 Q] it can be seen in the first (unnumbered) plate showing an overall view (Gesamtansicht) of the armory that the sword is displayed in the center of the gallery on the end of a rack of weapons in the center of the image. It is illustrated on plate XXXVI as no. 262a and 262b and is described on pp. 82-83 of the typescript.

In 1922 Müller-Hickler published a small booklet, Führer durch die Waffen-Sammlungen des Gräflichen Schlosses zu Erbach i. O. (Erbach im Odenwald, 1922, 17 pp., no illus.). On p. 12 he describes the weapon rack in the center of the gallery, where this sword was displayed, as "the place where the most beautiful and noble pieces in the collection are shown (In der Mitte des Saales erhebt sich ein Gestell, auf dem die schönsten und edelsten Stücke der Sammlung angeordnet sind).

Provenance:
Erbach Castle, Erbach im Odenwald, Germany, from the late 18th or early to mid-19th century (this sword first definitively documented in 1867, see above). According to Müller-Hickler's introduction (1923 typescript, pp. 5-8, cited above) the Rittersaal of Erbach Castle was built and first installed during the time of Graf Franz zu Erbach (1754-83), complete with colorful costumes and romantic attributions. His son, Graf Eberhard, began the process of making the displays more scientific in their arrangement, in keeping with the increased knowledge about the history of arms and armor. The weapon racks, on which the present sword is first noted, appears to date from Count Eberhard's time. Modernization of the displays and the cleaning and repair of the collection were continued by his successor, Graf Konrad, who was the owner during Müller-Hickler's time.

According to notes from George A. Douglass Sr., the sword was acquired by Henry Walters (1848-1931) from the English dealer Harding and then returned to Harding by Walters, presumably prior to Walters's death in 1931. This refers to either George R. Harding, a well-known London dealer, or his son, H. Wareham Harding, who ran the New York branch of the business that was established during WWI.

Acquired from Harding by A. Adler (presumably the New York dealer Abraham Adler, 1902-1985).

Acquired by George A. Douglass Sr. (1867-1958) from Adler in November, 1943.

By descent to George A. Douglass Jr. (died 1995).

Acquired by Ed from Mr. Douglass's heirs in 1995.

Acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013.

Commentary:
Decorated swords from the early to mid-sixteenth century are rare and decorated two hand swords of that period are rarer still. No sword of this type and of comparable quality has been on the market since the early 20th century (the only comparable sword in the Metropolitan Museum of Art entered the collection in 1904 when the Museum acquired an Italian two hand sword [04.3.290, currently on display in gallery 371] as part of the Duc de Dino Collection). Although both the Erbach sword and the Dino sword have very attractively etched and gilt decoration on their blades, the Erbach sword has much more intricate, lively, and original chiseled ornament completely covering the surfaces of its pommel and guard. The motifs and the style of its ornament are reminiscent of a series of elaborate sword hilt designs by the Mantuan artist, Filippo Orsoni, as recorded in albums of his designs dated to the 1540s and 1550s. The etched decoration on the blade of the Erbach sword, while Italian in style and execution, is based at least in part on engravings by the Nuremberg artist, Bartel Beham (1502-1540), particularly his Battle of Eighteen Nude Men (Bartsch16; Pauli 25). The sword grip is a replacement that includes sixteenth century German fittings. The grip may have been added to the sword anytime from the late sixteenth century up to the mid-nineteenth century. Overall, however, it is very likely that the key elements of the sword - pommel, guard, and blade - have been together since the sword was created. This is indicated by the fact that pommel, guard, and blade decoration all appear to be of Italian workmanship of about 1550; by the precise fit of the blade to the guard; and by the superb balance and form of the sword as a whole. It is very unlikely that all of the elements could have been so successfully combined and harmonized in a composite made for the art market in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. This sword is further distinguished by its Erbach provenance, one of the earliest and best documented Gothic Revival armories in Germany and the source of important pieces in various museum collections, including three in the MMA's collection: the horse armor dated 1548 and made for Johann Ernst, Duke of Saxony (32.69); the armor of Emperor Ferdinand I (33.164); and a Dutch chiseled steel rapier of ca. 1650 (1995.51).


I, and others, had done a fair amount of research on this weapon. Stuart Phyrr, of the Met, is of the opinion that it is a Medici piece. He is doing work on the Medici archives and has his eye on trying to nail down a provenance. The iconography is classic and probably listed from a German master. I have scoured the works of the German "Little Masters" whose work was appropriated for decoration of other objects. I got it in my head that it was from the Saxon court, because of the medallions on either side of the blade. This was poo-poohed for reasons that I cannot discern. Still think the idea has merit. The medallions match those on the helmets of the royal guard.

Anyhoo, I'll start posting some pictures now.
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Old 19th September 2016, 10:46 PM   #2
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Schloss Erbach contains a well known armory from which piecs were sold at a number of well known sales early in the past century.

The post card that is reproduced shows the sword on display. At least one of the Graffs was well known for outright swiping of stuff. There is a story of him absconding from the Vatican with an object under his cloak.

I think that the shield that is in front of the sword is also now at the Met. Gotta check on that.
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Old 19th September 2016, 11:02 PM   #3
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These engravings show a classic 16th century battle scene with a medallion of Marcus Curtius descending into hell.

For completeness I am also showing the medallion from the other side. This shows Gaius Mucius Scaevola putting his hand into the flames. These were two popular and inspiring images at the time and they both appear on the helmet of the royal Saxon guard. The helmet was in the Higgins Armory Collection and kindly made available to me by Kent Russell, curator at the time.
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Old 20th September 2016, 03:47 AM   #4
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A remarkable piece! Thank for sharing the story of its provenance. I do not recall seeing it on display at the Met when I visited last month, but perhaps I overlooked it... I did get a photo of the Italian sword mentioned; there is no image of it in the Met's online collection as yet.
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Old 20th September 2016, 05:41 AM   #5
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Thank you for sharing this remarkable and well-provenance example, Ed.
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Old 20th September 2016, 11:56 AM   #6
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Great sword, Ed .
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Old 24th September 2016, 12:20 AM   #7
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This superb sword is on display (or was 3 months ago), in a case in the middle of the gallery. Its label gives its provenance as Erbach castle but says that it is on loan from Laird & Kathleen Landmann, from 2013, not owned by the Met. Very odd, considering Ed's account of it above. The Landmanns are noted elsewhere in the gallery as both donors and lenders of other items of arms & armour, especially swords.
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Old 24th September 2016, 07:45 AM   #8
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A magnificent sword , it seems more people claim ownership or previous ownership
that or the MET made a mistake
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Old 8th October 2019, 01:13 PM   #9
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I am resurrecting this thread to add a bit more information.

Laird Landsmann did, indeed, purchase the sword from me. I didn't mention that detail because I was not sure how the Met was going to handle it, whether the loan would be Anonymous or not. Obviously it is public so I can amplify.

What happened was that I had two pieces that the Met wanted, a half armor and the sword. They bought the armor outright. Laird had bought and either donated or loaned a number of swords to the Met so he was approached to make the acquisition of the sword and then make the loan. My understanding is that it is on permanent loan but that info could be wrong. I suspect that the sword will be at the Met forever.
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Old 9th October 2019, 03:53 AM   #10
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Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

Do you have enough info/ pictures to share the half armor also?
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Old 9th October 2019, 11:29 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CSinTX
Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

Do you have enough info/ pictures to share the half armor also?

Yes. It's the Boyne Half Armor. I'll start a thread.
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Old 16th October 2019, 03:42 PM   #12
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It remembers me of those stocks given away by the popes to those "defenders of the faith", like the one for Don Juan de Austria and that of the count of Tendilla.

There is a list of receivers here:
https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estoque_y_Capelo_bendito

But of course, a related inscription would be something to be expected.

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