A sumptuous sporting gun
In 1952, the Royal Armouries acquired a decorated sporting gun that is dated 1646. It is a splendid example of what can be achieved by collaboration between specialist craftsmen, in this case one of whom made the lock, another the barrel and a third who stocked it.
Whereas barrel and lock makers generally signed their work, this was rare among stockers. This is surprising as their work was of the highest order and in some cases not confined to firearms but extending to the production and decoration of all manner of sumptuous articles. As to whether they were primarily cabinet makers or stockers is unclear. This uncertainty is certainly the case with Jean Conrad Tornier, a known cabinet maker and the stocker of this sporting gun, which is fitted with a lock made by Franz Kruter, of whom little is known other than that he worked in Solothurn, Switzerland. Interestingly, the metalwork is surprisingly plain considering the quality of Tornier’s stock work. Tornier was a talented craftsman who not only stocked luxury firearms – three, including this one, are attributed to him – but he was also an accomplished cabinet maker. A signed example of his work is represented by a coffer or box, now in the Wallace Collection in London, which has panels inlaid with exactly the same motifs and designs as our gun.
Tornier’s work is particularly distinctive in his use of plain, green and yellow stained stag horn among the plethora of small and large inlays he used in his decorative designs, whether on firearms or boxes. He rarely, if ever, used precious metal plaques or wire inlay. The designs he favoured, well-displayed on this gun, usually involve a central inlay depicting a cluster of green or yellow fruit and foliage from which radiate curving branches and tendrils, among which are disposed small birds. Around the base of the butt are further inlays depicting huntsmen with spears, hounds and stags. Of particular interest on the left side is an amusing depiction of a bear with a spear threatening a prone hunter.
Traditionally, the study of firearms has largely been directed to their mechanical development and construction, and students have been less concerned with their artistic significance. The special skills that craftsmen specialising in firearms could bring to their trade, as is illustrated by this example, were of such a high order that the craftsmen were controlled by rules drawn up by guilds in 17th-century Germany – similar to the Worshipful Companies in London. The rules of these guilds, strictly enforced, were such that a master barrel-maker was forbidden to make stocks or locks and vice versa. This gun represents some of the best stock work found on a firearm.
The Royal Armouries acquired this sumptuous gun from the collection of WR Hearst at St Donat’s Castle in Wales, which Hearst had purchased in 1922, spending a fortune renovating it and filling it with works of art from all over Britain and Europe. Hearst bought this gun for his collection in 1936 at Sotheby’s in London.
The Tornier gun is among the 630 items on display in the Hunting Gallery at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, the National Museum of Arms and Armour: www.royalarmouries.org. The museum is open daily 10am-5pm. Entry is free.
The 1646 flintlock sporting gun by Jean Conrad Tornier with ornate stag-horn inlay