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Swiss dagger

Key data

dated 1572, probably Basle

Blade in cast brass, gilt

length of dagger 37.9cm, length of sheath 30.8 cm

Inv. 1882.107.


Display weapons were seldom made in Switzerland, since for both economic and political reasons the circle of patrons was small; theoretically at least, the emphasis was on cooperative confederation. But the Swiss dagger was an important exception; developing from a simple functional instrument into a richly decorated ornamental weapon, it became a distinguishing mark of a whole social class in the C16. Officers, high officials and wealthy citizens ordered these luxurious products; the Museum holds three especially costly examples. The 'Swiss' dagger, as it was already known by contemporaries, is distinguished from daggers from other countries by the shape of the handle and blade. Subjects from biblical, ancient and Swiss history served as motifs for the richly worked and sometimes gilt sheaths. The sheath of the Swiss dagger shown here is cast in brass and gilt; it shows scenes from a Dance of Death. The date 1572 is engraved on the back of the sheath. The Museum owns contemporary lead models from Basle goldsmiths' workshops for various parts of this display weapon.

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