Peter Finer

An Italian Cuirassiers’ Long Wheel-lock Pistol, Terzaruolo a Ruota, Brescia, Late 16th century

Item Ref: 2468 Price on application

2468 2
2468 7

Italy, Brescia. Iron, steel, wood.


W. Keith Neal Collection

Imposingly proportioned wheel-lock pistols of this type were used in the late 16th and early 17th century to arm the heavy cuirassiers of Venice and the various states throughout the Italian peninsula, and the term Terzaruolo was given historically to Italian wheel-lock firearms which were sized between the long arquebus and the conventional holster pistol. Surviving examples from the renowned workshops in Brescia and Gardone are very rare, and of these nearly all are confined to museum collections and those of Italian historic former arsenals. Examples comparable to the present one are preserved in both the Royal Armoury collection and the Artillery museum in Turin: see, respectively. Another example is in the Capodimonte armoury, Naples. Another, in the Ducal Palace, Venice, is currently attributed to a non-specific German origin but this is more likely in fact true of the lock only.

The foremost authority in the study of Brescian firearms of the period, di Carpegna, gives a detailed account of the military wheel-lock pistols attributed to Brescia and Gardone, the principal suppliers of military firearms of the important Venetian arsenals. Di Carpegna notably records the presence of Germans active within these Brescian workshops in this period: see di Carpegna 1997, pp.429-3.

In addition to the large size, this type of pistol is also typified by the very close similarities to south German pistols of the same period. The locks and the pommels of the stocks of these Brescian pistols in particular closely resemble a style of wheel-lock pistol produced in the south German city of Nuremberg, both the all-steel types and those military long pistols stocked conventionally in wood.  The Brescian pistol type to which this present example belongs is also closely related to the military long pistols made in the well-known gun-making centre of Ferlach, in south eastern Austria. Ferlach is situated in the province of Carinthia, the southerly reach of the former Holy Roman Empire bordering the then independent state of Venice. The Nuremberg pistols are readily identified by the standard inclusion of Nuremberg city control marks struck on their barrels and locks; the Ferlach pistols are for the most part distinguishable from those produced in Brescia only in the instance of them bearing the mark of the Ferlach gun-maker Hans Schmidt, or the coat-of-arms of the superintendent of the Ferlach arsenal. To further complicate the distinction it has been noted among many Ferlach military pistols that their locks are of Brescian construction. Examples of these are preserved in quantities in the famous historic collections of the city zeughaus in Graz, in the province of Styria in eastern Austria, and the armoury of Konopiste castle, Prague. For comparison with the Ferlach-attributed pistols in the Graz arsenal see Brooker 2007, pp. 290-314.

The maker’s mark struck on the barrel of the present pistol is regrettably defaced, but sufficient remains to confirm the distinctly Brescian character of this mark. Additional confirmation of the Brescian origin of this very rare pistol is found in details of the lock design and construction, identical in some instances to those locks mounted on the larger late 16th century Brescian military arquebuses. The delicate pierced chiselled decoration of the trigger-guard attests to distinctive Brescian workmanship also.  

Robert Brooker, Landeszeughaus Graz, Austria, Wheellock Collection, Hong Kong 2007      
Nolfo di Carpegna, Brescian Firearms, Rome 1997                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
With swamped sighted barrel formed in two stages with flat low girdle between, the forward stage sixteen-sided, the breech section octagonal, lightly engraved over the base with a band of three acanthus-filled panels, engraved with a very small fleur-de-lys frame enclosing a stamped shield-shaped mark of Brescian character (defaced), and fitted with standing iron back-sight. Large flat lock struck with an indistinct mark on the tail, and the forward retaining screw impaling a small pierced decorative plate opposite the lock. Fitted with engraved ring-shaped wheel-bracket with the inner edge decorated with a kidney-shaped chamfer, fluted pan with engraved sliding cover, and acutely angular dog moving on a baluster-shaped arm. Figured walnut full stock carved with simple linear mouldings, iron-bound ‘fishtail’ butt, with iron trigger-guard chiselled with a symmetrical pierced design of interlaced leafy tendrils, pierced belt hook, linear engraved iron fore-end cap, the forward part faceted to match the barrel, a corresponding band inset over the base of the fore-end, the trigger formed as a marine monster, iron-tipped wooden ramrod (an expert replacement), and in fine condition throughout. 

Size: Length 57.1 cm / 22 ½ in