Catalog of the Fine Arts Collection
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John Beaufain Irving (1826-1877), American
Halberdiers are foot soldiers named for their weapon, a long-handled poleax used against horsemen. In the modern era, the halberdier's role is largely ceremonial, most famously serving as the Pope's Vatican guard. In medieval and Renaissance times, however, halberdiers were celebrated warriors who were the primary defense against armored cavalry before the introduction of firearms.
Appropriately, John Beaufain Irving's halberdier is a man of great swagger. His brilliant red sash, bravado pose, and casual demeanor convey a sense of his proud position. Irving was well known for his historical genre scenes such as this one, though at least one of his peers, John F. Weir, criticized his compositions as overly theatrical when they were exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876.