Why historical research matters
The work of a swordsmith necessarily involves a lot of historical research. As professionals we have the duty not to lie.
How many times did you read “historical replica” or “hand-forged sword” or also “faithful reproduction” close to a wannabe Excalibur toy-sword?
Q17. Yours is a rare job that can have a connection even with those who do not practice fencing. Have you ever dealt with replicas for museums, universities, or the like?
Eleonora: We have never had the opportunity to build replicas for museums as of yet, but we have had the opportunity to collect data from private collections, as well as the Marzoli Museum in Brescia and the Solingen Museum of Blades.
This interview was published in 2020, since then we have had the opportunity to start a project in partnership with KLANG – Spade di leoni ed aquile – Interreg VA Italia – Austria and Comune di Belluno in Italy which has enriched Museo Civico di Palazzo Fulcis with a collection of weapons made by Bellunese swordsmiths, all from Museo Correr in Venice. We are currently working on two wonderful specimens, one schiavonesca and one late XVI century estoc.
Q18. Now let’s move on to sports equipment. What difference is there between forging a weapon for reenactment and one for sport?
Rodolfo: Certainly the thickness and the degree of flexibility.
Dealing with sport, reenactment and blunt replicas is always a great challenge. Every sword belonging to one of these different categories has to follow different parameters of thickness, flexibility and accuracy.
The sport swords, meant for the Historical European Martial Arts practice, need to be flexible and performative, and also to be as minimal as possible from an aesthetic point of view, without sacrificing the general historical flavour.
The reenactment swords, meant for scenic battles and duels, are not our cup of tea, mostly because so many authentic parameters have to be sacrificed for the sake of extreme resilience and durability.
On the other hand, the collectible swords, belonging to the Armeria Collection, are the works we enjoy the most but also the most demanding ones. Being as accurate as possible, finding the right compromises to make an excellent blunt reproduction require an amount of time and efforts that other more “standard” swords don’t need.
Q19. Do you receive more requests for sports weapons than for historical replicas, or vice versa?
Rodolfo: Definitely more for sports weapons.
Q20. Have you ever made weapons for films, theatrical performances or fiction in general?
Rodolfo: No, never, but we would love to.
Q21. What do you think of the swords that are only for display? Yours never are.
Eleonora: They fulfil their purpose!
We always have a large variety of customers who look for different aspects and purposes in their swords. We mainly work with historical fencers, and we never had the opportunity to work for cinema or theatre.
But we made some collectible swords that were for display: they were heat-treated and decorated, but even if they were meant to be exhibited, we always choose to make fully functional reproductions.
Q22. How could you go about making an exact replica of a historical weapon preserved in a museum? You’ve done it before, can you tell us about it? Again, we don’t need the details, but just a few indications to give us an idea.
Eleonora: To make an accurate replica, the best would be to make the tracings of the exact original piece or original pieces of the same type, also because the swords often come to us having undergone some changes or suffered some wear and tear over time. We then proceed with the design, from the tracing to the drawing, until we get to the object we are going to build, which will be the result of compromises, reconstruction by deduction or proportion, choice, and research on the materials to be used.
To understand why historical research matters you have to start with another question: what does historical accuracy mean?
We interpret it by working on the dynamics and the “feeling”. From a design point of view, Eleonora always carries out the research starting with collecting as many models and information as possible of the same type of sword, comparing a large choice of originals and data. She chooses the right aesthetics, designs the piece with a CAD software and gives the general coordinates. Then, the task passes to the smithy, where Rodolfo and the guys analyse the project. the directions and the suggestions left by Eleonora and work out a plan to make it possible, in order to follow the feel and the appearance of the original sword/s which the project is based on. All the skills provided by the team makes the result possible.
Q23. Nowadays, the term “experimental archeology” is in fashion. Do you, though not archaeologists in fact, feel that way?
Rodolfo: Absolutely not! Experimental archeology is, by definition, the reconstruction of the process that leads to the artefact. We don’t use the same procedures, and above all our purpose is not the study and research of the procedure, but the realisation of the result. The study of the procedures is collateral and utilitarian as a means to our end goal.
And here we are! It would be heresy if we’d affirm to follow the ancient techniques to investigate the process. But if we want to stay grounded, because on the contrary our processes wouldn’t be efficient enough, we must be devoted to historical research.
Why does historical research matters then? Because without it a sword would be ugly and clumsy or simply ordinary and repetitive. By distorting or not knowing the principles that regulate the design and the properties of the sword, that sword can remotely recall the original in some way, but it will never have the same attraction, grace or strength as the object that inspired it. Nor the smiths can grow and evolve through time.
We still have to learn a lot, because every art requires repetition, devotion and studying but we’re confident in saying that we’re doing our best to walk in the right direction.
And if you have any suggestion, we are always very keen to listen. Keep up following us for the next episode!