Archer’s bracer

Flanders – 1576
Bone engraved with a blackened line
15 x 6,6 x 3,6 cm

Inv. 992.24.1

Major works | Indignant Subjects

Sebastian, patron saint of archers

Flemish culture is steeped in myriad traditions. One of these, popinjay (archery where the target is high up on a vertical pole), is still practised today but originally came down to us from the Middle Ages.

In 15th century Cassel, there were several groups of archers, arquebusiers and crossbowmen tasked with protecting the town and its territory. They were grouped into three guilds placed under the protection of a patron saint: Saint George for crossbowmen, Saint Andrew for arquebusiers and Saint Sebastian for archers.

This bracer is part of an archer’s gear: it protects the forearm from being hit by the string. It is a decorative arm guard made out of noble material – bone. Most arm guards were generally made out of boiled leather. Engraved with a blackened line, this represents the martyrdom of the patron saint of archers, Sebastian. A soldier in Diocletian’s army who converted to Christianity, he was condemned to be shot by arrows for helping imprisoned coreligionists.

After dissolution during the French Revolution, the companies of archers reformed around 1800, with sport and leisure as their sole vocation. Many associations in Flanders today still practise popinjay. The Saint-Sebastian association in Cassel continues to play this sport more than five centuries after it first emerged on the scene.