A royal crossbow
THERE have been many different crossbows designed for a vast range of purposes, including war, large game hunting, target shooting or, in the case of this sumptuous example owned by the Royal Armouries, small bird shooting. It is known as a pellet or bullet crossbow.
This crossbow is extremely delicate in form with the forepart of steel chiselled with foliate motifs, monsters, grotesque masks and birds all against a gilt background. The bow or prod is also engraved in a similar fashion, the style being reminiscent of the baroque, especially French baroque.
Between the usual foresight pillars is a detachable slide for use when shooting bolts as an alternative to pellets or bullets. The upper face is inscribed “Trincks a Stasburg”. Christian Trincks was born at Edern, near Dresden, the date of his birth being unknown, and was the son of a master-mason. He is recorded as being active, in Strasburg, from 1710 to about 1751. He had moved to Strasburg in 1710 to marry the daughter of a citizen of that town and is recorded in the protocols corporatifs of the guild of Strasburg gunmakers, serving as a gun-viewer between 1714 and 1732.
This crossbow was probably made by him about 1720 and is traditionally thought to have been the property of Queen Maria Leczinska (1703-1768), the Polish wife of King Louis XV of France, whom she had married in 1725.
The crossbow seems to have been altered at a later date, probably in the late 18th century, as the replaced stock is in the French style of that period with the hand of the stock in the form of a grotesque, scaly dolphin. On the right side of the stock a frame of carved flowers surrounds an inset mother-of-pearl bust and three fleur-de-lys. The left side is inset with a figure of Diana, the huntswoman, and a hound all in silver. The bust bears a striking resemblance to Queen Marie Antoinette with her flowing tresses; Maria Leczinska, on the other hand, is usually portrayed with short, curly hair, which suggests that this crossbow may have been re-stocked for Marie Antoinette.
This crossbow had a chequered history before its acquisition by the Royal Armouries in 1952. It came from the Hearst collection, formerly housed in Hearst’s Welsh castle at St Donats in Glamorgan. Hearst’s agents had acquired it at a Sotheby’s auction in 1932 of the collection of the noted Swedish collector Major T. Jacobsson. Prior to this it had been displayed at the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition and was recorded then as being in the collection of the Duke of Saxe-coburg and Gotha. Even at that time it was described as “Arblète de la Reine Marie Leczinska” (Crossbow of Queen Maria Leczinka).
The crossbow can be seen in the Hunting Gallery at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, the national museum of arms and armour. The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Entry is free. www.royalarmouries.org
This delicate crossbow probably belonged toQueen Maria Leczinska of France