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Swords in popular culture

In the world of arms and armour, the objects featured in contemporary popular culture are often underrepresented. Much of the public perception of arms and armour is coloured by the cultural mainstream, yet many museums have been slow to appreciate and preserve the wonderful things made for films, games and other media. For many, popular culture is the primary means of exposure to such objects and for museums, this area is key to developing a successful future events programme.

Precedents for collecting items of this nature do already exist. In the past, the Royal Armouries have purchased items such as an ensuite rapier (IX.5609) and parrying dagger (X.1789) for theatrical use. More recently, five swords that had famously been used during the production of The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were purchased from Weta Workshop as part of a highly successful exhibition of ‘Arms and Armour from the Movies‘, which was held at the Royal Armouries in 2008. This exhibition was based entirely on material designed and made by Weta Workshop and brought in some 160,000 visitors.

After the success of our exhibition in 2008, the museum set out to build a representative selection of the arms and armour featured in popular culture, including production-used and, where possible, screen-used examples of blank-conversions, prop weapons and armour. Hopefully, the objects collected will help to illustrate the ‘iconic’ status of armour in popular culture as well as the quality and technique of modern film armour, craftsmanship and manufacture.

‘Ibelin’ Sword and Durza’s Blade

So far, edged weapons acquired by the Royal Armouries include a stunt sword (IX.5634) from the 2005 film ‘Kingdom of Heaven‘ and a hero sword (IX.5643) wielded by Robert Carlyle’s villainous ‘Durza’ in the 2006 fantasy film, ‘Eragon‘. Intended for use by Liam Neeson and Orlando Bloom during the filming of the feature film ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, the ‘Ibelin’ sword as it would come to be known was built by Oscar and BAFTA winner Neil Corbould from a design provided by famous film armourer Simon Atherton.

The hollow blade is made from steel to give the sword a lightweight feel and to enable a spring-loaded inner blade to retract inside the outer to give the illusion of delivering a penetrating injury., When we consider the prominent use of computer-generated imagery in modern film-making, it is interesting to see that this very old ‘trick’ blade technique is still being used today.

Durza’s sword was also designed by Simon Atherton, but unlike the ‘Ibelin’ sword, it is a hero sword that was not meant to be used during fight scenes. As their inspiration, the designers took a hand-and-a-half-sword (IX.949) in the collection of the Royal Armouries, which is North European (German), dates from about 1480, and which bears gilt copper alloy mounts including a collar of gilt bronze on the grip of the hilt, as does the sword of Durza (although its collar is of white metal).

The wooden grip itself is of ‘writhen’ form and again one finds this reflected in the form of the movie sword’s grip. Perhaps the most obvious inspiration is in the form of the gilt copper alloy pommel and cross-guard which have been cast and chiselled to appear as though made from three rods twisted together. The cross on the movie sword still retains this ‘twisted effect’ although it is now a ‘furred limb’ terminating in a talon and the pommel is in the form of an open claw of four talons.

 

Get a closer look at these pieces of silver screen history and other Collecting Cultures objects on our Collections Online website where you can see images in deep zoom.

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