When Charles VIII of France invaded Italy in 1494 he set off a string of events and battles which would scar the peninsular for over sixty years, as various European heavyweights and smaller city states fought each other for control. Italy’s recent military history had been dominated by the condottieri, mercenaries who have been accused of being more preoccupied with extending their period of employment and minimising casualties than engaging in serious combat. This is sometimes claimed to be the reason various Italian states were ineffective in resisting the French forces, though these generally also maintained their own, local forces. Over the years kings, dukes and popes made and broke alliances as they all competed for power or at least safety, and it would not be unusual to find Italian forces on both sides during these campaigns. RedBox have already made a set for these men, concentrating on the missile troops and command; this time the emphasis switches to the old-fashioned edged weapons. There are three basic types of weapon on show in this set: halberd, sword and spear. The arquebus and crossbow were mainly defensive weapons, as was the pike, but the men here are much more about assaulting the enemy.
First we have the three halberdier poses in the top row. The first of these is a terrific figure of a man walking with his weapon resting on his shoulder, looking very relaxed with his left hand resting on his sword hilt. This figure has been very cleverly done to ensure it is not at all flat and looks great, particularly the natural angle of the halberd. The other two figures are in much more aggressive mood, both advancing with the halberd lowered. These are OK poses too, though we would doubt that the man also carrying a shield would be of much good as the halberd is a two-handed weapon, and a fairly large shield attached to the arm like this would be a considerable encumbrance. There is a fair amount of flash on all these, so some cleaning will be necessary, but all are useful to some degree.
The next five figures are using or carrying a sword, although all the figures here have a sword as a sidearm. Unlike the top figure, the poses here are pretty poor. The first three are exceptionally flat, with two holding their sword directly over the mid-point of their body, which is very hard to do and completely pointless to try. The first man even seems to have cut into the top of his own helmet with the blade, but really all three are very unnatural and just look awful. The fourth figure in the middle row is at least believable in posture, and so the pick of a bad bunch, but we were not entirely sure about the very small shield he carries – more of a buckler in size – which is an interesting shape but not one we managed to validate. By contrast, the first figure in the last row is fabulous. Again he is just a marching figure, but this one holds a large sword on his shoulder. It’s a tricky pose to do, but here it has been done well. Like his fellow sword-wielders, this chap has enough flash to be noticeable, though not high levels except on some of the sword blades themselves.
To complete the collection we find two figures with quite short spears. This was far from a prestige weapon, but surprisingly it was still in use in 16th century Italy so justifies its place here. The first such man holds his spear directly over the centre of his head, pointing it to the left but not looking in that direction. As with the swordsmen, this is both a silly pose and very flat, which is all the more disappointing when some poses have been well thought-out and well executed. In fact the human wrist cannot swivel this far, and why would anyone want it to for such a pose? No reason, but easy to mould. The second spearman looks much better on our photo, and in many ways he is. He is clearly not in combat, but has his spear nonchalantly resting on his shoulder. Well, to be more accurate, it rests on the back of his neck, where there is no surface on which it could rest, but is wedged in place thanks to the shield this man wears on his back. The idea for the pose is reasonable, but again the execution is too flat and unnatural.
The costume of these men is quite varied, and perfectly acceptable for the period, though more suitable to the earlier part of the century, which is as well as it is during those years that much of the fighting took place. On the whole the men all wear hose with a prominent codpiece and a short doublet with large puffy sleeves. It is possible that some have leather soles stitched on to their hose rather than shoes, but it is not clear enough to be sure – either are OK. Italian fashion at the time was something of a half-way house between the sober French clothing and the outlandish German costumes such as those of the Landsknechts, and everything here looks to be appropriate. A number of different soft caps are in evidence on the heads, again all looking good, and some have helmets, which would also be appropriate. Most seem to have none, but one or two may actually wear a cuirass, perhaps metal or leather, all of which reinforces the image of perhaps a town militia with a wide assortment of civilian clothing and a few bits of armour, much of it old but still serviceable.
In terms of detail and proportions the sculpting is very good. There are some lovely folds in the clothing, and small elements like fastenings are generally very good. Unfortunately some straps have simply been part lost in the process, so for example the man with the shield on his back is achieving this with a strap that runs over his shoulder and then stops abruptly at the chest, resuming around the right hip, or the scabbard strap on one of the halberdiers. All figures come complete, so there are no separate shields or weapons, and apart from some very poor poses this does mean there is some excess plastic in hidden spots. Many of the shields are plain (hooray) but a few have quite deep engraving (boo) including one with a very complex design.
This set raised our spirits with good accuracy, fine detail, good selection of weapons and some lovely poses. It also dashed our hopes with some pretty terrible unnatural poses and a bit more flash than we would like. It is a pity that there are some down sides to these figures as they are amongst the first for this subject, and well researched, but if you are looking for marching figures there is plenty to delight here, while anyone searching for figures in combat will be disappointed with what is on offer.