The Elector of Brandenburg’s Hunting Sword
- By Stuart W. Pyhrr (Associate Curator, Department of Arms and Armour, The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
- Acknowledgments: The author gives his thanks to Jurg Meier, Christian Theuerkauff, and Helmut Nickel for information and advice
Among the great court armouries that existed in Central Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a list that would include the Rustkammern of the Holy Roman Emperors in Vienna and Schloss Ambras near Innsbruck, of the prince-electors of Saxony in Dresden, and of the dukes of Bavaria in Munich-the armoury of the prince-electors of Brandenburg in Berlin is one of the least well known. This is owing, in large part, to the facts that the armoury was ransacked on several ccasions and that the museum housing the armoury in this century, the famous Berlin Zeughaus, suffered severe losses during World War II.
Documentation shows, however, that the Brandenburg armoury flourished during the reign of the “Great Elector,” Friedrich Wilhelm (1620-88, prince-elector from 1640), and his son Friedrich III (1657-1713, prince-elector from 1688, and King in Prussia, as Friedrich I, from 1701), and that a large number of gunsmiths flocked to Berlin from France, Switzerland, and various parts of Germany to furnish the court with deluxe hunting weapons and sidearms. One of these emigre craftsmen was Jacques Munier, who was presumably a member of the Munier (Meunier) family of gunmakers from Geneva; indeed, he was probably the gunmaker of that name who was recorded in Geneva from 1672 to 1678.
By 1682, however, Munier was known to have been working in Cölln, near Berlin, and on the recommendation of Margrave Johann Friedrich of Ansbach he subsequently moved to Berlin. Munier became court gunmaker (Hofbuchsenmacher) to the Great Elector on March 15th, 1687, and in 1702/1703 he is last mentioned as Unter-Ristmeister (assistant master of the armoury). Some thirty guns and pistols by Munier are recorded in the Inventory of the Royal Prussian armoury, begun on September 20, 1718. The brief descriptions indicate that their decoration included hunting scenes and grimacing masks (“blarren Gesichtern”), as well as the insignia of the elector, and some were signed “Munier a Berlin.”
Unfortunately, none of the firearms mentioned in the inventory can be identified with certainty among the surviving weapons by this gunmaker. The 1718 inventory also mentions a hunting sword among the arms by Munier. It appears as number eight on the list, with the notation that it was “deposited [in the armoury] by the gunmaker Munier on November 1st, 1690.” The sword is described as having a polished iron guard, on the cross of which were an eagle and a lion “with scepter and English Order, an ivory grip on which there are hunting scenes, on the blade the king of Hungary, on the other side Amurath, the Turkish emperor. The sword had a black leather scabbard with iron mounts, which contained two small knives.
The inventory description is sufficiently detailed to allow us to identify the weapon as one now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The sword comes from the extensive collection of smallswords and hunting swords formed by Jean Jacques Reubell of Paris and presented to the Museum in 1926. The sword’s blackened iron guard consists of a knuckle guard, a forward quillon and two rear quillons, and a solid shell projecting from the outer side of the quillon block at right angles to the plane of the blade. The decoration, chiseled in low relief, is sparse. The straight forward quillon and the rear quillon that curves slightly toward the hand have globular, fluted knobs, which end in acorn-shaped buttons.
The second rear quillon, which turns toward the blade, ends in a serpent’s head, as does the end of the knuckle guard where it enters the grip. At the center of the knuckle guard is a flattened globular knob with acanthus foliage above and below. The quillon block on the outside of the hilt is chiseled with two grimacing masks with bared teeth. Similar masks, with wings, appear on the heavy molding of the shell. On the inside of the hilt, the quillon block is chiseled with an eagle and lion that support in heraldic fashion the Order of the Garter, inscribed “HONI SORR QVI MAL PENGE” (a misreading of the Garter motto, “Honi soyt qui mal y pense” meaning, “Shame on him who thinks evil of it”).
Within the Garter is a scepter, the traditional symbol of office of the prince-elector of Brandenburg as arch-chamberlain of the Holy Roman Empire. Along the edge of the sockle beneath the guard, where the blade enters the hilt, is the faint but still legible inscription “IAQVE MVNIER A BERLIN ME FECIT,” followed by a leafy branch. A laurel wreath is engraved on the sockle around the opening for the blade, on either side of which are two and three punched dots respectively. The grip is formed of a single piece of ivory carved in the round with hunting scenes arranged vertically. On the outside, a hunter can be seen from behind steps upward to spear a lion; the lion in turn bites the arm of a bear.
The scene is completed by a chamois that lies dead beneath the bear. On the inside of the grip a dog lies pinned beneath the bear; below, two hounds pursue a stag. A black iron button at the top secures the tang to the hilt. The straight, single-edged blade becomes double edged within eight inches of the point, and there is a shallow groove along the back on either side. The blade is etched on both sides near the hilt. On the outside of the blade (reading from the base upward) are trophies of arms, an oval medallion above enclosing the profile of a male and the inscription “Ian Huniade”, two scepters crossed in saltire, and a design including a branch that is now almost completely worn off.
An acorn-shaped mark, presumably the bladesmith’s, is stamped at the base. The inside of the blade is decorated with trophies of arms and a medallion showing a turbanned and mustachioed figure inscribed “Amurat”; the medallion is surmounted by a crescent. Above this are traces of etched decoration: a series of 9 X’s arranged in diamond formation and probably crossed laurel branches. At the base of the blade, where it enters the guard, are punched two dots on one side and three on the other; these correspond to the dots punched on the sockle of the guard and were apparently intended to facilitate the correct assembly of the blade with the hilt.
The Metropolitan’s sword matches in almost every detail the inventory description of Munier’s sword. However, the compiler of that inventory incorrectly identifies Janos Hunyadi (d. 1456) as “the king of Hungary”; on the contrary, Hunyadi was only the governor of Hungary although he was the father of its future king, Matthias Corvinus. “Amurath, the Turkish Emperor” can presumably be identified as Sultan Murad II (reigned 1421-51), Hunyadi’s contemporary and a frequent opponent on the battle field. The masks chiseled on the guard also appear to correspond to the “blarren Gesichtern” that were mentioned in the inventory descriptions of Munier’s firearms.
Only the present black color of the iron guard disagrees with the inventory’s description of a guard of polished, that is, “white,” iron. However, the black color, which in fact appears to be old, is probably the result of continuous oxidation of the iron over the centuries. The scabbard with small knives mentioned in the inventory seems not to have survived. The representation of the Order of the Garter on the hilt of the sword is evidence of the elector’s great pride in having received the English decoration. The order, founded by King Edward III of England by 1348, was occasionally bestowed on foreign sovereigns, princes, soldiers, and statesmen.
Friedrich’s father, the Great Elector, had been the first of the Hohenzollerns to receive the Garter. He established a precedent for his son by incorporating the Garter into the electoral insignia, which he used on coins, medals, and monumental sculpture. On January 1st, 1690, less than two years into his reign, Friedrich III was nominated to take his father’s place in the order. On June 6 of that year he was invested with the Garter in Berlin by William and Mary’s commissioners, James Johnston, the Lancaster Herald, and Gregory King, deputy to the Garter King of Arms. Friedrich wasted no time adopting the Garter as a personal badge. Jacques Munier’s sword, delivered to the armoury on November 2, 1690, must have been among the first of the elector’s arms to include the Garter in its decoration.
Apart from the obvious historical importance of this sword, it is a signed work by Jacques Munier and a documented sidearm of the prince-elector of Brandenburg, it is also of interest because of its distinctive hilt construction and its handsomely carved ivory grip. The shape of the guard, particularly it’s unusual, bifurcated rear quillons, calls to mind the series of hunting swords produced during the second half of the seventeenth century for the court of the prince-electors of Saxony. The majority of the Saxon weapons are dated 1662 and bear the initials of Johann Georg II (reigned 1656-80).
The hilt of the Munier sword, however, is much less robust than that of the Saxon examples and is more in keeping with the delicately proportioned guards of late 17th century smallswords. Still, the bifurcated rear quillons suggest that Munier was influenced by the earlier Saxon swords, which is not unlikely considering the geographic proximity of Saxony to the margravate of Brandenburg and the strong influence of the Dresden court on that at Berlin. It is the elaborately carved ivory grip, however, that is without doubt the outstanding feature of the sword.
While multifigured ivory grips for hunting swords and knives were commonplace in Central Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, the grip of this sword is exceptional because of the high quality of its carving. Its composition can be shown to derive from a design by the Zurich goldsmith Hans Peter II Oeri (1637-92, master in Zurich in 1672), who specialized in the production of gilt brass sword hilts, gorgets, belt buckles, and other deluxe military equipment. Oeri produced two versions of the so-called “hunter grip.” One of these, dated by Meier to about 1670-80, is columnar in shape and is ideally suited for swords with symmetrical hilts without knuckle guards.
This type is known from two grip models in the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum and from several fully mounted swords. Another version, dated by Meier to about 1665, is better suited to swords with asymmetrical hilts having knuckle guards, because the grip ends in a more pronounced “beak” formed by the projecting head of the bear. This grip type, known from a gilt brass hilt in the Historisches Museum in Basel, served as the model for the grip on the Metropolitan’s sword.
Munier’s sword is the only known example of any of Oeri’s grip models to have been executed in ivory. The carver may have known Oeri’s design from either a mounted sword or a detached grip. In any case, he made some minor changes in the design, simplifying it by eliminating certain details. The bearded face of the hunter, for example, rendered in profile in Oeri’s version, is turned completely inward on the ivory grip, so that only a fringe of hair shows beneath his cap. His pouch and some folds in his costume are eliminated. The hunter has a more active pose; his left leg and arm are cocked at a sharper angle, emphasizing the exertion needed to spear the lion.
Also, on the back of the grip the number of dogs has been reduced from three to two, and their respective positions have been changed. The overall result is a streamlined and more dynamic composition. Unfortunately, the ivory grip, unlike the iron guard, is not signed. Jacques Munier’s name can also be associated with at least one other edged weapon, a cut-down hunting sword that recently appeared on the art market. The sword has an ivory grip carved in low relief with scenes of a boar and stag hunt. The dogs in these scenes have collars carved with the date 1699 and the initials “w” and “cw,” presumably those of the ivory carver.
The ivory plaque forming the pommel is carved with figures of Diana and a faun and is surmounted by a gilt-iron button. A washer between the grip and pommel is fitted with a ring, which allows for the attachment of a chain or other pendant. The short quillons of gilt brass are octagonal in section and taper slightly toward the blunt ends. The single-edged blade is etched and gilded on one side with the device of the electoral scepter within the Garter, and on the other side with the letter “F” beneath the elector’s bonnet; below this cipher is the inscription “MVNIER.” There is no doubt that this sword too was made for Elector Friedrich III by his court gunmaker.
That Munier, a gunmaker by training, should also make swords may at first seem surprising. However, Munier may well have prided himself on being an Eisenschneider, an iron chiseler. In this respect he can be compared with the earlier Bavarian court iron chiselers and gunsmiths Emmanuel and Daniel Sadeler and Caspar Spit, and with his contemporary Armand Bongarde. Bongarde, court gunmaker to Elector-Palatine Johann Wilhelm at Diisseldorf, made for his patron in about 1690 a magnificent garniture, which included a fowling piece, a brace of pistols, a smallsword, and a cane, all mounted in exquisitely chiseled iron. Munier seems to have been expected to show the same versatility as a craftsman. It is ironic that this once-respected and highly placed Berlin court gunmaker is represented in collections today not by firearms but by two ivory-mounted hunting swords.
- Hunting sword, the iron guard by Jacques Munier, German (Berlin), I690. L. overall 331/2 in. (85.I cm.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Jean Jacques Reubell, 1926, in memory of his mother, Julia C. Coster, and of his wife, Adeline E. Post, both of New York City, 1926
- Hunting sword (photo #1) by Jacques Munier - outside and inside view of the hilt
- Hilt of a Saxon hunting sword, German (Dresden), dated 1662. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Collection of Arms and Armor
- Hilt of a hunting sword, the grip and guard of gilt bronze by Hans Peter Oeri, ca. 1670-80. Bern, Historisches Museum
- Cut-down hunting sword of Elector Friedrich III of Brandenburg, by Jacques Munier, German (Berlin), dated 1699. L. overall i3/4 in. (30 cm.)
Source: © 2000–2013 The Metropolitan Museum of Art