The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe

Wallace Collection

17 May – 16 September 2012

The Noble Art of the Sword celebrates the artistic and cultural importance of the sword, as a symbol of power and prestige, as a flamboyant fashion statement, and as an icon of the Age of Discovery.

Combined rapier and wheel-lock pistol, German, 1580-90

It will be composed of weapons and related works of art from the Wallace Collection; never-before-seen illustrated works on fencing drawn from the Lord Howard de Walden library; loans from a number of the great collections of arms and armour; and portraits, prints and drawings that will help place the Renaissance civilian sword in its social and artistic context.

This major international exhibition will also explore the ancient origins of the modern sport of fencing. Fencing is one of only nine original Olympic events practised since the first Olympiad of the modern era of 1896. It is set to reveal a place in history where art and sport converged.

Since the early Bronze Age the sword has been a sign of wealth, status and the power of divine right. Yet before the 16th-century, the sword was almost never carried on the person in everyday life. It was a rare, noble weapon, carried into battle by the aristocratic warrior class but set aside in peacetime. However, the increasing prominence of the Renaissance middle classes brought a fundamental change to the sword's place in society. Now large numbers of non-noble but often wealthy and upwardly mobile people could also afford rich things like fine clothes, jewellery and weapons.

An exciting programme of events will accompany the exhibition including themed talks and tours, handling sessions and live demonstrations.

Venue information

Opening times

Daily, including bank holidays, 10am – 5pm

Closed 24 – 26 Dec

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)