Pair of Snaphaunce Pistols

Gunsmith: Matteo Cecchi, called Acquafresca (Italian, Bargi, 1651–1738)

Date: ca. 1690

Geography: Bargi

Culture: Italian, Bargi

Medium: Steel, silver, wood (ebony)

Dimensions: L. of each pistol 21 1/2 in. (54.7 cm); L. of each barrel 15 in. (38.2 cm); Cal. of each barrel 1/2 in. (13 mm)

Classification: Firearms-Pistols-Snaphaunce

Credit Line: Purchase, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Gift, 2006

Accession Number: 2006.471.1, .2


Matteo Acquafresca was one of the most original, talented, and sophisticated Italian gun makers. His mastery of relief-chiseled and engraved steel, not only for firearms but also for small objects like snuff boxes, was unsurpassed. Although he worked in the isolated Italian hamlet of Bargi, near Bologna, Acquafresca was aware of current northern, particularly French, fashion through engraved pattern books. This pair of pistols is comparable in design and execution to the best contemporary Parisian examples, yet the snaphaunce mechanisms, belt hooks, and ornament give them a distinctly Italian character.

Like all Acquafresca's finest pistols, this pair is stocked in ebony, the dark wood serving as the perfect foil for the bright steel mounts and silver wire inlay. Ornament abounds on every surface, and subtly different motifs–masks, birds, fantastic beasts, human figures—decorate each of the pistols. The facing male and female busts chiseled in low relief on steel plaques set into the grips are perhaps an allusion to a dynastic alliance. Finely worked and imaginatively conceived, these pistols were surely created for the pleasure of one of the gun maker's known patrons, who included Cosimo III, grand duke of Tuscany, and other members of the cosmopolitan Medici court in Florence.