Modern Relevance of Rapiers: a visit to the Wallace Collection

apier of Christian II, Elector of Saxony, The hilt probably made by Marx Bischhausen of Dresden, the blade Solingen, c. 1605-7, Rüstkammer, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden on display at Wallace Collection’s ‘The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe’

What do Early Modern gentlemen and modern street crime have in common? Well I wouldn’t have thought much until I recently visited an exhibition at the Wallace Collection.

After reading the review of the Wallace Collection’s exhibition ‘The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe’ in the Museum Journal, I knew I had to visit. As promised the objects on show were exquisite and though the exhibition may appear quite small for some people, I think this helped convey the magnificence of the items on display. Items not only from the Wallace Collection, but also the V&A, Royal Armouries, Glasgow Museums as well as collections from Vienna and Dresden.

What I was surprised about was the familiarity of some of the themes brought up in the exhibition. These blades were not only violent weapons but they were fashion accessories and symbols of status. They went with a style of dress, obviously some elaborate suits of armour, but also a gentleman’s everyday look, beautifully demonstrated in a portrait of Robert Dudley, famous for being one of Elizabeth I’s court favourites. These are themes that are sometimes mentioned in reports on modern-day youth knife crime, and it did make me wonder if this is something that could be explored further.

I was impressed to discover the Royal Armouries have a literature review titled ‘Tackling Knife Crime’ published in 2006: http://www.royalarmouries.org/assets-uploaded/documents/RA_Literature_Review_on_Knife_Crime.pdf (opens a PDF document), and it highlighted to me the possibilities that historic collections of weapons could have in looking at and (maybe) addressing knife crime in the UK. There are obviously far more to youth violence that fashion and status, but any way to get the public and children thinking and talking about can’t be a bad thing.

‘The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe’ is free and open until 16 September. See more information here: http://www.wallacecollection.org/collections/exhibition/93

The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe

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