Hand-and-a-half hunting sword

2007.01

ARMORY TREASURE

This superbly decorative sword was a high-end version of a common utility weapon. Single-edged swords with knife-like hilts, descendants of the Viking Age sax, were carried by peasants to help in their chores, as well as serving for self-defense at need. This one was made for a high-ranking nobleman, and would have been an eye-catching sidearm on an aristocratic hunt. As well as its use in killing prey, the robust, knifelike blade was also helpful for clearing brush out of the hunting party’s path.

The elaborate and distinctive decoration of the hilt identifies this piece as coming from the workshop of Hans Sumersperger of Hall, and very possibly made by Sumersperger himself. Sumersperger's clients included the Austrian imperial family, reflecting his outstanding talent as a bladesmith and designer. This sword is one of few surviving examples of his work.

Description

Curator's Comments

This sword is one of three of its type known to come from Sumersperger’s workshop: another is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the third, made for the Austrian imperial household, is in Vienna. This superbly decorative sword was evidently made for a high-ranking nobleman, and would have been an eye-catching sidearm on an aristocratic hunt. As well as its use in killing prey, the robust, knifelike blade was also useful for clearing brush out of the hunting party’s path. [Intro Gallery label text] MMA 28.158.704, also possibly by Sumersperger, is similar, but the crossbar and more of the grip is of cast brass, and simpler in design, and the blade is also simpler. MMA 04.3.152 is a hunting knife of similar design by Sumersperger, and has a blade more akin to this example than to the Met's sword. Cf. Wallace Collection A 476, 697 for other distant cousins, and A 883 for a Sumersperger Kredenzmesser. KHM D11. Inscription reads "MARIA.HILLF.VNNS.AVS.NOTTG.HILLF.SANNDT.SEWASTIAN" This also has leather sheath with 3 by-knives of various sizes. See the postcard in the hardcopy file.

Bibliography

Related pieces:
KHM Vienna D 11. Thomas and Gamber 1976: 1.124, pl. 61; Seitz 197-97; Blackmore Hunting Weapons pl. 1. For a later example of the type, see KHM D 12.
Cf. the knife set by Sumersperger in Stift Kreumuenster (cat. no. 45).
Cf. also the series of Messers in Reichsstadtmuseum Rothenburg (2010) 457 ff.

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