Our Milanese Rapier is the focus of today's post. This dramatic piece is a great example of the mid 16th Century arms of Northern Italy. It has two side rings and a three bar inner guard, but no knuckle bow. It's outer surface is filed with a checker pattern that covers all the elements except the inner guard. Our standard finish is the black oxide, coloring the hilt to a deep blue/black. You can order the piece with a brushed steel finish if prefered.
The original we based this piece on is in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan Italy. It is a wonderful rapier and one that is a great example of this style of surface decoration on a rapier.
There are a few other pieces produced with this style of hilt and surface decorations so it may well have been a hilt maker who specialized in this finish or even a regional style of sword adornment in the mid 16th century. We saw one at auction about 15 years ago and more recently we were able to add an original to our collection with a similar motif though with a drap of cloth sculpted about the checkered bars of the hilt.
These rapiers are of a kind one sees many examples of in the transition from the single handed cross hilted sword to the more complex hilted swords of the type depicted in the fight manuals of the period. The popularity of these swords spread quickly across Europe and the rapier became not only a military style of sword in its sturdier varieties but also the stylish civilian sword of choice.
As the elements of the rapier hilt were added to a simple cross guard the hilt was used as a decorative surface for display. The function of protecting the sword hand was why it developed in the first place but the display of one's status and taste has always been a significant secondary function of weapons and armor. In the case of rapiers, detailed surfaces like this rapier were an important part of their purpose as a statement about the wearer.
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.