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Crossbow of Count Ulrich V of Württemberg

Attributed to Heinrich Heid von Winterthur (probably Swiss, active Stuttgart, recorded 1453–1460)

dated 1460
probably Stuttgart
German, probably Stuttgart
Wood, iron, copper alloy, ivory, horn, tendon, birch bark, traces of polychromy
L., 28 1/4 in. (71.7 cm); W., 25 3/4 in. (65.4 cm); Wt., 6 lb. 8 oz. (2948 g)
Archery Equipment-Crossbows
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1904
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Probably the earliest dated crossbow––as well as one of the most beautiful examples of its kind––to survive from the 15th century, it is also the only crossbow of its period whose maker can be identified with reasonable certainty. The elaborate decoration consists of ivory panels carved with figures, inscriptions, and the arms of Count Ulrich V of Württemberg (1413–1480) and his third wife, Margaret of Savoy (1420–1479). The Latin inscriptions on either side are a hymn to the Virgin Mary and a Christmas-related quote from the gospel of St. Luke (2:14). On the underside, the crossbow features an extremely rare German inscription rendered in Hebrew letters––one of the earliest recorded instance of its kind. Difficult to interpret, it is probably a cryptogram intended as a sophisticated homage to the weapon's illustrious owner; alternatively, although this remains a highly speculative interpretation, it may possibly be an encoded signature of Heinrich Heid, the count's crossbow maker. Since the gospel quote is found beneath the arms of Savoy, Countess Margaret may have given this crossbow as a Christmas present to her husband who was a passionate huntsman.

    The bow, although contemporary, may not be the one originally fitted to this weapon; the nut is a later replacement.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Inscribed: (in classic Hebraic characters but including several mistakes, on ivory plaque on underside of stock) HAB GOT LIEB HOCH HERZE; (in Gothic letters, on ivory plaque with arms of Württemberg) Gloria . in excelsis . deo . Et . in . terra . pax . hominibus . bon[a]e . voluntatis . Laudam[us] . te . Benedicti[mus] . te . 1460; (in Gothic letters, on ivory plaque with arms of Savoy) O Maria . graciosa . Dei . m[ate]r . generosa . Dig[n]a . laude . gloriosa . Sis . pro . nobis . speciosa . ad[?] M . CCCC . LX.

    Marking: Heraldry: [on right side of stock] Württemberg: Or, three stag's antlers fessways in pale sable; [on left side of stock] Savoy: Gules, a cross argent.

  • Provenance

    Belonged to Ulrich V, Count of Württemberg, who married (in 1453) Princess Margaret, daughter of Amédée VIII, first duke of Savoy. Ex coll.: [Anonymous Collection, Paris]; Charles Alexander Baron de Cosson, Chertsey; Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Duc de Dino, Paris

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History