This hunting sword is a masterpiece of the Gothic Revival style and a virtuoso demonstration of mid-nineteenth-century design and craftsmanship, which were greatly stimulated by the series of international exhibitions held in London and Paris in the 1840s–60s. It is virtually identical to one executed by an otherwise unrecorded craftsman, Marcet, for the Paris firm of silversmiths and jewelers Marrel Frères, which was shown at the Great Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace, London, in 1851. That sword was especially praised by the exhibition's jurors, who noted that its design "left nothing to be desired." As a measure of their success, Marrel Frères received a medal for their display, and no fewer than five of their objects were purchased by the English commissioners for the new Museum of Practical Art, the forerunner of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The hunting sword was among these, valued at the substantial sum of £200, and is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (reg. No. 159-1851).
This sword differs from the London example only in an ornamental band around the throat of the scabbard. The grip is fashioned as a deep architectural niche formed of pierced strapwork and foliage, partly gilt, into which is set a figure, cast and chased in the round, of Saint Hubert, patron of the hunt. The cross-shaped guard is inhabited by three dogs, modeled with naturalistic detail, in pursuit of a fox, which cowers at the front of the quillon block; on the end of one quillon an eagle seizes its prey, a crane. The broad, double-edged blade is chiseled with a series of interrupted fullers on each side. The scabbard is of copper, cast and chased with Gothic tracery and gilt by electroplating, an innovative technique that enjoyed great vogue during the mid-nineteenth century. Encircling the top of the scabbard is a silver relief representing the miraculous vision of Saint Hubert; another silver panel in the center of the scabbard is embossed with trophies of the chase. An inscription, MARREL PARIS, is found at the base of the hilt and tip of the scabbard.
From the mid-sixteenth century, the French were unrivaled in the field of highly decorated, deluxe arms. This sword demonstrates that this tradition had not diminished 300 years later.
Inscription: Inscribed at the base of the hilt and tip of the scabbard: MARREL PARIS.
Sale, Sotheby's, New York, May 14, 1987, no. 59, sold to MMA.
Ellis, Robert, ed. Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, 1851: Official and Descriptive and Illustrated Catalolgue. Vol. 3. London: Spicer Brothers, 1851. p. 1193, no. 331, pl. 184 (an almost identical hunting sword and dagger, labeled "M. Marcet, France").
Wyatt, M. Digby. The Industrial Arts of the Nineteenth Century,... Illustrations of the Choicest Specimens... at the Great Exhibition... 1851. Vol. 2. London: Day & Son, Ltd., 1851. pl. 153 (brief history of the firm of Marrel Frères, Paris, with a colored lithograph illustrating works by that firm).
Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, 1851: Reports by the Juries on the Subjects in the Thirty Classes into Which the Exhibition Was Divided. London: Published for the Royal Commission by William Clowes & Sons, 1852. pp. 513, 737, 740 (a very similar sword and hunting knife described).
Marlborough House. Department of Practical Art: A Catalogue of the Articles of Ornamental Art in the Museum of the Department: With an Appendix. London: H.M.S.O., 1852. pp. 40–41, no. 162 (a related sword, in the Victoria and Albert Museum).
Blackmore, Howard L. Hunting Weapons. New York: Walker, 1972. p. 45, fig. 15 (a very similar sword by Marrel).
Christie, Manson & Woods. Fine Antique Arms and Armour. London: Christie, Manson & Woods, June 15, 1977. no. 44 (a silver-mounted hunting sword signed "Marrel Ainé and Fils Fr. Bté. de S. M. L'Empereur and de S. M. L'Impératrice, Paris" and inscribed "Course du Camp de Châlons, Prix Donné par l'Empereur 1865").
North, Anthony. An Introduction to European Swords. London: H.M.S.O., 1982. p. 38, fig. 79 (an almost identical sword).
Alcouffe, Daniel. "Musée du Louvre, Departement des Objets d'art. A Propos d'une Coupe de Benoît Marrel: Note sur la Maison Marrel Frères." La Revue Du Louvre Et Des Musées De France (1985). pp. 32–40, no. 1.
Christie's East. Antique Arms and Armour and Modern Sporting Guns Including Firearms from the Estate of Charles L. Bricker. New York: Christie's East, May 14, 1987. no. 59, ill. (described as French or Belgian, late 19th century).
Nickel, Helmut, Stuart W. Pyhrr, and Leonid Tarassuk. "Arms and Armor." Recent Acquisitions (Metropolitan Museum of Art) 1986/1987 (1987). p. 22, ill.
Wainwright, Clive. "The Making of the South Kensington Museum II: Collecting Modern Manufactures: 1851 and the Great Exhibition." Journal of the History of Collections 14, no. 1 (2002). pp. 35–37 (a similar hunting sword in the Victoria and Albert Museum discussed).