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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Sword for (Martial) Artists

I’m delighted to announce that at auction in London last week the Museum acquired a very rare German practice sword from the 1500s. Swords of this type evolved in the late Middle Ages as a safe version of the knight’s “hand-and-a-half sword,” designed for use in either one or two hands. The unusual shape of the blade maintains the weight and balance of a fighting sword while having a rectangular cross-section that flexes to prevent a thrust from injuring the opponent—much like the weapons of modern sport fencers.

Swords of this type are widely attested in German art of the 1400s and 1500s—the deadly dance of combat fascinated artists of the period, many of whom sought to capture the elegant flow of swordplay through paintings, woodcuts, and etched prints. One important example is Tobias Stimmer’s woodcuts in the Museum’s copy of Joachim Meyer’s Kunst des Fechtens (“The Art of Combat”). First published in 1570—about the time this sword was made—Meyer’s book is one of the most important swordfighting manuals of the period. In fact, my 2006 translation of Meyer became available again on the very day we acquired this sword—a pretty exciting day all round! Look for more news of the sword once it makes its journey across the Atlantic.

- Jeffrey L. Forgeng, Curator of Arms & Armor and Medieval Art

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