Schlüssel des Basler Zeughauses

Key of the Zeughaus (armoury), Basle

Probably Basle, ca. 1820/30
Forged iron, cast bronze
length 17.5 cm
Inv. 1909.257.

3803px x 4822px
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Keys are not merely instruments for locking, but often also symbolic. To have the key is to have power to rule; this applies in both the sacred and the secular spheres. For instance, the handing over of a town's key signifies recognition of its ruler. The relinquishment of keys after a lost war means subjection and abdication of sovereignty to the enemy. In popular belief the key has protective powers. It is a defence against the evil eye, sickness, witches, fire, etc. Not only a real key, but a key amulet worn on the body can work miracles. In the imagery of love, finally, the key embodies the phallus, the lock the womb. The Basle crosier on the key of the Basle Zeughaus designates the city state of Basle as sovereign over the armoury and the army. In its imitation of Gothic idiom the key is also a revealing example of the Romantic age's enthusiasm for the Middle Ages. The handle imitates Gothic trefoil tracery. The two larger lobes are traversed by foliage; the small lobe contains the Basle crosier. The stem has a knop and the bit is in two parts.

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