A sump­tu­ous sport­ing gun

The Field - - UNDER THE HAMMER - by Mark Mur­ray-flut­ter

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

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