The Wallace Collection

Cosimo I de’ Medici falchion North Italian, c.1550 (A710)
Portrait of Cosimo I in armour, workshop of Bronzino, after 1545
Portrait of Cosimo I in armour, workshop of Bronzino, after 1545
Treasure of the Month - February 2006

Cosimo I de’ Medici falchion North Italian, c.1550 (A710)

This magnificent short sword belonged to Cosimo I de’ Medici, Duke of Florence (1519-1574) and it is recorded in the inventories of the Medici Armoury.

This weapon could have been used on horseback as a side-arm while hunting large game such as boars, wolves and bears, but it was also probably worn by Cosimo as a complement to the parade armour in “Roman style” which was the fashion in the highest courts of Europe and is often seen in contemporary representations of classical figures (see painting Judith with the head of Holofernes, (P525) in the Sixteenth Century Gallery and maiolica dish C58 in the back corridor case D).

The quillons and pommel of the falchion, of gilt iron, are wrought as bold lion’s heads; the lion, a royal beast, symbolic of courage and justice, figures prominently in the decoration of Renaissance parade armour. Another lion’s head is chiselled on the oval shell-guard, surrounded by vine foliage. Falchions often featured pommels shaped as human or animal heads. The grip is of carved grey agate (probably a 19th century restoration; the original was probably of leather-and-wire-bound wood), the broad, single-edged and slightly curved blade bears etched on both sides the crowned arms of Cosimo encircled with the collar of the Golden Fleece. He used these arms between 1546 and 1569 when he was elected Grand Duke, receiving a crown of peculiar design different from the coronet depicted on the blade of the falchion. On both faces of the ricasso (the top part of the blade next to the hilt) there are maker’s marks. The mark of the letter M in a ship has been attributed to an unidentified master working in Northern Italy.

This sword was part of the personal armoury of Cosimo de’ Medici kept in the Palazzo Vecchio. Cosimo was only 18 when he was elected head of the government of the city-state of Florence but he left to his successors a flourishing Grand Duchy. He managed to play off his enemies against each other and even to assert himself against Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. Amongst his military actions were the construction of fortifications on the island of Elba, the taking of Siena, the foundation of the military order of Saint Stephen to protect the Tuscan coast from Turkish raiders, and the building of fortresses throughout Tuscany. The emperor granted him the title of Duke and elected him to the Order of the Golden Fleece. In 1539 he married Eleonora di Toledo (see her portrait in the Sixteenth Century Gallery, P555) the beautiful and wealthy daughter of the viceroy of Naples. To win precedence over the other Italian states Cosimo had long aspired to become Grand Duke and on 27 August 1569 Pope Pius V finally granted him the title, the first of this kind in Italy. Cosimo wanted a splendid court and he surrounded himself with works of art (see C107, the maiolica wine cooler bearing his personal device, in the Smoking Room), using art as an instrument of power; his official portrait in armour, is known in over twenty-five versions. After Cosimo’s death the falchion was probably displayed, together with the rest of Cosimo’s arms and armour, in the Medici Armoury, a unique display of arms and armour impressively arranged in the Galleria, on the top floor of the Uffizi gallery, at the end of the XVIth century. The reorganisation of the Uffizi galleries in the 1770s led to the dispersal of the Medici Armoury, including the destruction of many objects and the public sale of thousands of others. What remains in Florence of the Medici Armoury is now visible in the Bargello Museum.

Further Reading

  • J. Mann, Wallace Collection Catalogues, European Arms and Armour, 1962 (on mobile stands in this gallery)
  • A.V.B. Norman, Wallace Collection Catalogues, European Arms and Armour Supplement, 1986 (on mobile stands in this gallery)
  • M. Scalini, Armature da Cosimo I a Cosimo II de’ Medici, 1990
  • C. Dobson, Art and Arms, Florence city of the Medici, conference proceedings, Florence 2003