Fashion in the Age of Datini

Knives (Fighting)

Wealthy men and soldiers often wore a fighting knife or dagger (daga, pugnale, coltello). Italian art usually shows the dagger at the right hip (not in front of the crotch) and blades of modest length (not the 12″ or more which was fashionable in the late 15th and early 16th century).

Three families of daggers have well-recognized names today. Baselards have a crossguard above and below the hand, and the guards and tang are all of scale construction. Some Italians today call them pugnali a doppio T but the name basolardi is mentioned in the archivo Datini di Prato and is usually assumed to have meant the same thing as the modern collector’s term baselard. They tend to be big by 14th century standards, with at least 10″( 25 cm) of blade. Sometimes the tips of the guard farthest from the point was bent away from the hand, and sometimes the blade was very long; these long baselards were often worn at the left hip like a sword and had a unique suspension system (Matricula Societatis Fabrorum Civitatis Bononiae, Altichiero, Niccolò da Bologna). Baselards seem to be associated with soldiers and with poorer men, and the grip scales are usually black in art (horn? stained wood?) The membership roll of the society of smiths of Bologna shows cutlers selling baselards with studded hilts next to working knives. Marco Vignola has published a booklet on the basilard in Italy.

Single-rondel daggers have a disc instead of a crossguard and a flared butt or rounded pommel. One survives in the Higgins Collection, Worchester Art Museum, accession number 1999.02.2 (= Worchester Art Museum 2014.443), another is in the Worchester Art Museum 2018.3. The rondel dagger with flat discs above and below the hand (double-rondel daggers) seems to have been more popular in the 15th century, although they occasionally appear in English brasses from the 1380s onwards and one (one!) appears in a Legenda Aurea from 1361 (BSB Cgm 6). A typical picture of an early double-rondel dagger is Bibliothèque municipale Livrée Ceccano, Avignon BM MS.197 Antiphonal f. 151v (also on Manuscript Miniatures).

Quillion daggers, built like a cruciform sword with a double-edged blade, crossguard inserted through the tang, and pommel inserted onto the tang, are rare in North Italian art: the only example which comes to mind is the slab of Giacomo Provana (d. 1382) in Torino. There is one more on an effigy from Veneto in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A variety of other daggers were used which do not have a widely-known name today, including a type where both crossguards were curved away from the hand (antennae hilt?) or replaced with round ornaments (Lorenzo Acciaiuoli) and a type with a short, thick crossguard which may be made from soft materials instead of forged from iron and inserted over the tang (St. Sigismund in Verona). Both these styles and the one-disc rondel daggers seem to have been more popular with civilians and the very rich, and artists usually show them with white grips and guards (ivory? bone? pale wood such as yew?)

The irons of several baselards from this period survive in the Castelvecchio, Verona (two basilards, another) and there is one in the Allen collection, W-18. The Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Köln, has a baselard as inventory number R-32, and the Royal Armouries, Leeds, has another baselard as object X.297.

British Museum, museum number 1854,0424.2 has a short iron blade and one rondel made from the same wood as the grip and pommel, while Royal Armouries, Leeds, object number X.601 seems to have a rondel of ferrous and copper alloys, and X.1708 has a grip and two rondels each made up of a separate piece of wood. Quite a few daggers with hilts and guards carved in one piece are in British museums, mostly in the ‘ballock dagger’ style which was popular around the North Sea, such as Royal Armouries, Leeds, X.1744 and X.225. Many of these surviving daggers date long after the period discussed on this page!

The daggers of men-at-arms and civilians are usually of modest length with the blade no more than twice as long as the handle, perhaps 6″ to 8″ (2 palms) long.[1] The blades usually appear narrow and tapered. Because of the short light blades, arming daggers often hung horizontally, or even with the grip below the point, when they were not supported by the straps of a purse.

Information on scabbards and suspensions can be found under Knives (Working). Tod Todeschini, a craftsman who specializes in late medieval and early modern cutlery, has a bibliography on his English Cutler website including Luciano Salvatici ed., “Posate, Pugnali et Colteli da Caccia del Museo Nazionale del Bargello” and Harjula’s Sheaths, Scabbards, and Grip Coverings.

As always, click on the following photos to enlarge them.

Source Date Photo By Picture
Effigy of Niccolo Acciaiuoli
died 1365 Bildindex
Slab of Lorenzo Acciaiuoli
??? Me
Bibliotheque nationale du France, MS. Nouvelle Acquisition Française 5243 folio 26r
Said to have been painted between 1370 and 1380 Gallica
Painting of St. George, San Giorgetto, Verona
After 1360 by style of art Me
Statue of St. Sigismund (S. SIGISMONDO) on the tomb of Cansignorio della Scala, Verona
Begun in 1370, completed in 1376 Me
Statue of St. Louis of France (.S. ALUIXIUS REX) on the tomb of Cansignorio della Scala, Verona
Begun in 1370, completed in 1376 Me
Statue of St. George on the tomb of Cansignorio della Scala, Verona
Begun in 1370, completed in 1376 Me
Bibliotheca Trivulziana, MS. 691 Lucanus de Bello Civile fol. 87r
Postscript says that it was finished in 1373 Web Gallery of Art
Bibliotheca Trivulziana, MS. 691 Lucanus de Bello Civile fol. 119r
Postscript says that it was finished in 1373 Manus Online
Painting by Altichiero in Padua
1370s Ask me offline
BNF Latin 757 Missale ad Usum Fratrum Minorum fol. 57v
Said to date 1385-1390 Gallica
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg, object Gm1
Said to date 1400-1420 My photo

Many more paintings of daggers can be found in BNF Latin 757. The painters of this manuscript were very interested in belts and fittings and colours, even though miniature paintings provide less detail about shapes than large sculptures.

[1] cp. Fastolfe Inventory p. 27 j lytyll Schort Armyng dager withe j gilt schape and “Challenge of Pierre Touremine to Robert de Beaumanoire” 675.iv to 675.x Item une dague … de longueur de demy pied & plein paume avant la main, ou environ “half a foot and the flat of the hand” and the French Traité du costume Militaire from 1446 ont dagues (des archiers) plus longues que les hommes d’armes ne les coustilleux, et tranchent aussi comme rasouers, Sir John Smythe, Discourses (1590) p. 4 “short arming Daggers of conuenient forme & substance, without hilts, or with little short crosses, of nine or ten inches the blades, such as not onely our braue Ancestors, but al other warlike Nations, both in warre and peace, did weare, and vse. … in al battailes and other encounters, the nerenesse and prease being so great, short, strong, and light arming daggers are more maniable, and of greater executiō amongst al sorts of armed men”

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