Peter Finer

An Italian Breech-Loading Repeating Flintlock Gun by Michele Lorenzoni, Florence, Marked with the Ownership Monograms of Ferdinando III de’Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany (1663–1713) c. 1700

Item Ref: 2097 Price on application

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Italy, Florence. Wood and steel.

Provenance

Château de Gourdon, France

The most significant advantage of a repeating firearm is its ability to enable the shooter to reload and fire quickly and easily. The greatest impediment to this process in the muzzle loading age was the functional requirement for each round to be, in effect, custom made; first a measure of powder to be poured down the barrel, followed by a lead ball wrapped in either paper or a cloth patch, and all pushed down hard with a ramrod to a tight fit in the breech. To this process add the necessity, per shot, to prime the lock with fine-grade powder from a separate flask, close the pan cover and then cock the mechanism, and it will be obvious that great rewards would be open to the inventor able to circumvent this lengthy process. 

The earliest fully developed repeat-loading, self-priming and self-cocking mechanism is attributed to the Kalthoff family of gun-makers from Solingen, Germany, within the 1630s. The Kalthoff repeating magazine system quickly found a military application in the form of about fifty guns supplied to the Danish Foot Guards. The surviving guns are preserved in the Tøjhusmuseum, Copenhagen, and include two wheel-locks, the remainder being flintlocks. The reality of the Kalthoff system, however, was that its ingenuity was matched not only by its expense, but also by the extraordinary complexity of its internal arrangement of interdependent gears, levers and springs, with resulting fragility, making it an impractical solution. An alternative repeating magazine system was devised by Sigmund Klett of Salzburg in about 1650 but his system was in fact of even greater complexity than that of Kalthoff. 

Prior to about 1660–70 it appears that the pursuit of solutions towards a practical repeating system was returning to avenues of invention devised in the previous century. Principally these were the further development of revolving chambers, the development of barrels designed to each take multiple charges superimposed one upon another, to fire in succession, or the simple addition of multiple barrels. The current revolvers and superimposed types were seen as unreliable, some with the possibility of danger to the user, and the addition of barrels provided advantages limited to the number of barrels added and negated by the additional weight and loss of balance. 

There is unfortunately no record of the origin of the breakthrough to what has become known as the Lorenzoni system, but it was essentially a refinement and clever simplification of the principles established by Kalthoff. It is known that a gun of this type was made by Giacomo Berselli of Bologna and Rome in the late 1660s or 1670s, which is now in the Musée de l’Armée, Paris. In addition John Cookson, an English gun-maker, built a gun on this system in about 1680, which is now preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. History, however, references this comprehensive refinement of the mechanism, which is a masterwork of early engineering, to Michele Lorenzoni, the maker of our elegant repeating magazine gun.

Very little is known of the life of Michele Lorenzoni, which is strange in the face of his significant accomplishments in the development of repeating firearms, the extraordinarily high standard to which they were finished and the distinction of his court patronage. In fact even his birth and death dates are uncertain. We know that he worked in Florence from the early 1680s until late in the 1730s and counted the Princes Medici, among others, as his patrons.

We also have the evidence of his first firearm to which a recorded date can be ascribed: a gun bought from him by Johann Georg III, Elector of Saxony, in 1684, and now in the former Electoral armoury, Dresden. This gun is signed michael lorenzoni sensis; it has been proposed by the eminent authority L. G. Boccia that Sensis may refer to the Tuscan city of Siena as Lorenzoni’s birthplace. Made towards the end of his working life, a composed gun exists with the lock signed lorenzoni and dated 1737, formerly in the Keller collection in Russia. With the uncertainty of the start of Lorenzoni’s working life prior to 1684, it is impossible to confirm the likelihood of his being the inventor of the system which now bears his name. The evidence of his active interest in the manufacturing of first quality repeating firearms on several different systems does certainly, however, make this an understandable proposition. The long-lived success of the repeating magazine system now under discussion was undoubtedly attributable to the perfection of the engineering tolerances achieved in the Lorenzoni workshops, with 17th century tools, as much to the concept as a whole.

The repeating system on which our gun is built is referred to charmingly in historical shorthand as the system a tutto indietro, literally ‘everything behind’: the ‘everything’ being the tubular magazines for powder and ball which are concealed within the butt and therefore behind the action. The system can only be accurately referred to, however, by the cumbersome description ‘transverse cylinder, lever-operated repeating magazine system’. Despite the modern attachment of Lorenzoni’s name as a plausible and easy means of reference, particularly in the context of 18th century English and American developments (the Lorenzoni system), the truth behind Lorenzoni’s claim to the invention remains uncertain. More certain is his invention of two further repeating magazine systems, each of which was built on a fixed breech. These are referred to as the systems a tutto avanti and misto: ‘everything in front’ and ‘mixed’. In the case of the former the tubular magazines for powder and for ball are placed below the barrel, in front of the action. With the mixed system Lorenzoni positioned one magazine below the barrel and another was concealed within the butt. In each of the fixed breech systems the loading operation was entirely gravity based, and employed sequential moving cut-offs to ensure the required measures of powder and ball were delivered in the correct order. Another repeating magazine gun by Michele Lorenzoni, identical to our gun in all but minor details, is preserved in the Real Armeria, Turin. The engraving on the Turin example involves subjects from mythology which differ naturally from those on our gun but appear nonetheless to be part of a shared cycle of ornament. Both guns are very finely engraved in the Parisian style characteristic of the small clutch of gun-makers then working for the Florentine court. The overall compositions were most probably inspired by the designs for firearms ornament published by Jean Berain in 1659 and 1667, and the figural subjects from mythology perhaps related to a series of engravings by Simone Cantarini or da Pesaro (1612–48): the two guns are certainly engraved by the same hand. Another, also similar, together with a pair of Lorenzoni repeating pistols dated 1695, is in the former Imperial collection, the Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer, Vienna (nos d 371 and a.1446/7).

The crowned monogram mark struck towards the breech of our gun, the so-called Medici mark, is referred to in all authoritative studies of late 17th and early 18th century firearms associated with the Florentine princely court. The significance of this mark has also been discussed in the commentary made in our last catalogue on a pair of pistols by Matteo Acqua Fresca, one of which was dated 1725, and on which the mark is also stamped. Our commentary makes the point that Ferdinando III d’Medici died in 1713 and it is difficult therefore to argue the case for this mark as a stamp of princely ownership. The identical mark is also found on the Tuscan barrel of a Viennese gun made for Joseph Wenzel, Prince of Liechtenstein. These marks, if not intended to identify ownership, were probably intended by Tuscan barrel-makers to indicate a superior level of quality. The likelihood is that the enigmatic monogram, as a stamped mark, was in fact copied from the few original Medici ownership monograms, and arose from the natural inclination of Tuscan barrel-makers to impart a sense of importance. The original princely monograms variously appear inlaid or engraved within the ornament on firearms made for Ferdinando III d’Medici, Gran Principe di Toscana. Of particular relevance to our gun is the example of a genuine monogram engraved on the repeating gun (a tutto indietro) definitely made by Lorenzoni for Ferdinando III and now in the Bargello Museum in Florence. Lorenzoni also made another repeating gun for the same patron, on the system a tutto avanti. In this instance the Medici coat of arms of the Gran Principe di Toscana appears in place of the monogram. In addition, there is once again the close similarity between the mythical figural subjects engraved on this gun, and those which appear on our gun. A further Medici ownership monogram, of interest as a comparable example, is inlaid on the butt of an English gun by Andrew Dolep, also made for Ferdinando III d’Medici. Surviving examples of Lorenzoni’s repeating firearms are rare, with only a little more than thirty recorded in institutional collections worldwide. The precise origin of the Lorenzoni system and the identity of its true inventor appear to be of little account when weighed against the long-lived popularity of the system in both Britain and in North America. Firearms were built on the Lorenzoni rotary breech system in Boston Massachusetts, first by John Cookson II (related to the English maker of that name) in 1756, and by John Pim, evidently in 1766. Lorenzoni firearms even became the subject of study by 19th century firearms manufacturers of the machine age. Examples of both Kalthoff’s and Lorenzoni’s systems were obtained by Oliver Winchester, founder of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and are today held in the Cody Firearms Museum as part of the original Winchester collection. In Britain, as late as 1780–1800, the Lorenzoni system enjoyed considerable success, the design unaltered, now in the guise of repeating firearms produced by leading makers of the day. A perfect example is provided by the important pistol by William Grice which was included in our most recent catalogue. Others were made in the workshops of the celebrated London gun-maker Harvey Walklate Mortimer, Gunmaker to His Majesty. He copied the original designs of Michele Lorenzoni so slavishly as to frequently include on the cover of the priming-magazine the bird-of-prey similarly positioned on our gun made one hundred years earlier. 

The full complex operational sequence of Michele Lorenzoni’s repeating rotary breech system is set out in a carefully detailed step-by- step illustrated guide published by the late Dr Thomas Hoopes, former curator of the St Louis City Art Museum. This forms part of his discussion of the system and for this purpose Hoopes used illustrations of one of a pair of Lorenzoni repeating pistols from the celebrated collection of William Goodwin Renwick; illustrations of the dismantled components are also included. With the obvious exception of their silver mounts, this pair of pistols also compares very closely with both our superb gun and with its much published counterpart in Turin.

DESCRIPTION
The sighted smooth-bore barrel is formed in three stages, the breech first faceted, then octagonal and ending in a pronounced baluster moulding across the base. It is struck with a mark formed as the Medici monogram fm and a crown aperta, the mark related to the ownership monograms of Ferdinando III de’Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany (1663–1713). The action frame is formed with a raised sighting groove within a finely engraved acanthus enclosure, engraved with the scrolling mythical figure of a harpy along the upper tang, with engraved small designs of scrollwork involving monsters’ heads over the respective sides, and shaped to house a brass cylindrical breech block revolving on a horizontal axis. The breech block with enclosed separate chambers for powder and ball is inscribed firenze on its exposed right-hand side and fitted with an engraved stop; the left-hand side is enclosed by a convex iron cover, and fitted with an operating lever engaging a curved voluted spring catch at the rear. The back-action lock is signed lorenzoni and engraved with the mythical figures of Mercury and Argus, each seated within an Arcadian landscape. Its priming magazine with hinged cover engraved with a bird of prey, and with a rotary charger acting in unison with the rotation of the breech block. The cock and the steel are each chiselled in low relief; the cock retaining screw is chiselled with a demon mask, and the two parts move respectively on self-cocking and self-closing mechanisms actuated by the rotation of the action lever. 

Mounted with a highly figured curly walnut butt carved with raised mouldings and drilled with two tubular apertures, for powder and ball respectively. Fitted with iron full-length fore-end, the grip is formed as a broadened section, cut with engraved delicate raised mouldings framing scrollwork flourishes expanded upon those engraved about the action frame, together with the figures of Prometheus attacked by the Eagle and Hercules, his saviour. The iron side plate is chiselled as a pierced scroll en suite with the predominant pattern. With engraved iron butt plate with hinged magazine cover released by a spring catch, an iron moulded trigger guard, iron baluster ramrod pipes and retaining its original ramrod.

Size: Overall length 150.5 cm / 51¾ in, Barrel length 83 cm / 32¾ in