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Instrument type

Signed by Benvenuto della Volpaia
16th century; Florence
Iron; 390 mm in length

The pommel is spherical in form, with a double corona of leaves. The grip is of smooth, blue steel, like the rest of the instrument. The hilt is curved, and bears an engraved mask at the point of intersection with the blade, which bears the inscription 'VOLENTIERI' in gold lettering. On the other side, corresponding with the hilt are the letters 'B. V', also in gold.

According to the description in the Medicean inventory of 1587, prepared on the death of Francesco I, the instrument was completed by a sheath with a silver ferrule, now missing. It is described there as 'a pair of dividers, in the form of a dagger', and classified amongst the golden objects.

The letters 'B.V.' can be deciphered as Benvenuto della Volpaia, who worked as an instrument maker to the court of the Medici until his death in 1533. The compass could be used with the aid of a ruler, positioned between its legs to measure its aperture in order to calculate distances and heights.

See M. Miniati, Museo di Storia della scienza: Catalago (Florence, 1991), p. 46, and Magnificenza alla Corte dei Medici. Arte a Firenze alla fine del Cinquecento (Florence, 1997), p. 131.

Mara Miniati

Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, Firenze
Inventory no. 2515

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