History of Science Museum: Collection Database Search

Narratives

Bennett, J. and Johnston, S., The Geometry of War, 1500-1750 (Oxford, 1996)

17. Erasmus Habermel excelled in the construction of elaborate instruments whose ingenuity of form was matched by their fine gilding and decoration. He typically produced devices for a courtly clientele who valued the spectacular display of practicality over the utility of working instruments. However, unlike his astronomical compendium with string-gnomon dial (catalogue no. 5), which incorporates gunner's gauge scales almost as a decorative afterthought, this instrument is all but exclusively devoted to gunnery. It is one of several hybrid artillery instruments by Habermel to survive.

The instrument combines three distinct devices: a gunner's quadrant, a sight and a gauging rod. The quadrant, when seen stripped of other components such as the stand and sight, is of disarming simplicity and closely matches the form illustrated by Tartaglia. Its plumb bob and line are set against an arc graduated in points rather than degrees, and its long leg would have been inserted into a gun's muzzle in use. Two small sights attached to the side of this long leg enable the quadrant to be used for more general observations. The leg also carries the standard gauge scales for determining the weight of iron, lead and stone shot.

To transform the instrument into a sight that can be placed on the breech of a gun, the quadrant is turned upside down and made to serve as no more than a frame, to which the stand and sight attachments are screwed. The slot for the sliding sight is graduated not only in numbers from 0 to 12, with subdivisions to eighths, but also using letters from A to M marked against the same units.

The quadrant and sight share no common structural features but their combination creates an impressive and elaborate spectacle. Habermel's instrument is a tour-de-force whose primary purpose was presumably to grace the collection or cabinet of a noble or wealthy patron.

Dimensions: 350 x 194 mm

Billmeir Collection

Inventory no. 41,591

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