During the 16th century Italy was a geographical entity, but certainly not a political one. Divided between many states large and small, it was something of a battleground where the major powers of France, the Holy Roman Empire and Spain would spar with each other for local or continental advantage. At various times these nations and others might hire out Italians for their forces, and of course there were many local armies too, of which perhaps that of Venice was the most effective and well-organised. With invasions from outside and wars between states, there was no shortage of employment for a soldier, and therefore no shortage of uses for a set such as this, the first in a series from Redbox.
It is pleasing to report a very healthy 16 poses are to be found in this box, and as can be seen most are either holding an arquebus or a crossbow. The crossbow had been a speciality of some Italian cities in the medieval period, with Genoa and Pisa in particular supplying highly-prized bowmen, but during this century the crossbow was replaced as a military weapon by the new arquebus as this became easier to use and more effective. The three crossbowmen here are therefore covering the early years of the period, and the poses of advancing, shooting and reloading cover the basics well enough. All inevitably have the crossbow facing the mould so it can get to all parts, which means both the kneeling figure about to shoot and the man moving forward with bow string already fully drawn look pretty silly. That said it is nice to see this weapon given a reasonable presence here, though the century certainly belonged to the firearm.
The rest of the ordinary troops carry the arquebus, a weapon that developed steadily during the period and became the weapon of choice thanks to the relative ease with which it could be used. Various different types of trigger or hand-applied match were used at this time, but it is difficult to make out precise detail on those in this set, though the match can often be seen and everything here looks to be in order. Most are around 14 mm in length, which is fine, but a couple are larger, including one in the top row for which the gunner is also holding a support. The poses cover the various stages of reloading as well as firing and moving with the weapon, and with nine such poses the coverage is pretty good. Everything looks quite natural, though the man holding his weapon up to his shoulder perhaps gives an exaggerated idea of what could be achieved by attempting to accurately aim it. Again, however, we liked all the poses, which cover the subject well.
The four on the bottom row are on a separate sprue, of which there is only one in each box, which makes a lot of sense. The drummer is really nicely done, as is the trumpeter, and while the man with the flag is reasonable we did worry about whether such short-staffed flags were actually carried on campaign rather than just for display. The flag itself is reasonably flat but not bad, and happily not engraved with any design, while being big enough to allow a painter to get creative. The officer is a bit of an odd pose, since we wonder under what circumstances you would hold your sword up and directly away to your right like this, when a downward position might seem more natural, but this is not the worst officer ever made by a long way.
With mostly approving remarks on the poses we turn to the costume. Essentially all the men wear the doublet on the body and hosen on the legs. Naturally fashions changed over the course of the century, but for much of it the skirt or base was out of fashion, leaving the legs completely exposed, and encouraging the use of a variety of codpieces, which only disappeared around 1590, so good to see some here. The doublets are fastened in a variety of ways, all authentic, and the variety of lengths is good to see too. One consistent element here is all the men wear close-fitting under-sleeves with big, wide upper sleeves reaching to the elbow, which may have slashes or similar decoration, though there is no sign of that being sculpted. A very pleasing variety of soft caps are being worn, all of which are of reasonable design, and there is possibly one simple helmet too. The officer stands out, as he intended, by having a good deal of plate armour, yet he has chosen to do without a helmet, which would have been common enough. Some of the men carry pre-prepared cartridges on bandoliers, while others have powder flasks of various styles and bags for bullets, moulds etc. Finally they all have full-length swords, again of different designs, though doubtless of low quality and only there for emergencies. In short, lots to see here, and all of it perfectly historically accurate.
Sculpting is very good too, with plenty of fine detail nicely done on all the figures. The designer has done a good job of not making the figures feel flat, apart from the crossbow compromises, and we thought both the loose clothing and the very tight elements were well done. Faces are good too, and for the men themselves we found no flash at all. The same cannot be said of two of the speciality figures, which as you can see do suffer from considerable flash, but this may vary between boxes.
These men are not as outlandish as the contemporary Swiss or German Landsknechts, but are a great representation of Italian and other infantry at the time, particularly earlier in the century such as during the Italian Wars that ended in 1559. Naturally the two weapons on show here do not cover all aspects of any army of the day, so we must assume that subsequent sets will fill those gaps. What we do have here however are some very commendable figures with good accuracy and sculpting, and enough poses to create a very decent unit for many a late renaissance army. The recent consistently high quality from RedBox is continued with this cracking set, with the promise of even more to come.