We often seem to find ourselves discussing the claimed date range when we review a Zvezda set. This one claims the 17th century, which saw considerable changes in military fashion. In fact the figures are for the first half of that century, a period when Austrian musketeers and pikemen found plenty of employment.
For almost the entire lifetime of the Habsburg Empire it suffered from the disparate nature of its lands and peoples. The rise of Protestantism in the 16th century merely added one more explosive element to the volatile mix, and at various times during the first half of the following century the Empire had to deal with rebellions within its borders, particularly when Emperor Ferdinand II tried to impose Catholicism on all his subjects. Intermittent war with the neighbouring Ottoman Empire also occupied Imperial troops, but the dominating event of the period was the Thirty Years War, when rebellion at home drew intervention from France, Spain, Sweden and others. These then are the conflicts in which these soldiers were involved.
Infantry of the day was composed of two types – pike and shot (musketeers). Early on in the period an average unit would have slightly more musketeers than pikemen, but the number of pikes dwindled as time went on, although they were still in use by Austria and all others in 1650. As can be seen, this set provides both types, but surprisingly it has more pikemen than musketeers.
The four musketeer poses are very good. Two are firing their weapon while a third is adding powder to his firing pan and the fourth is on the march. The second firing figure has a matchlock as his match is clearly visible, but the first looks like he has a wheellock musket (or perhaps a carbine since it is light enough to do without a rest), although if so then the weapon lacks a cock. All are dressed in classic costume of the time for musketeers, which was basically civilian dress, but two have a bandolier of pre-prepared charges over their left shoulder while the others have to make do with pouches carrying ball and flasks of powder. All are entirely authentic for the period and very nicely posed.
The pikemen take up a lot more room as you might expect. Here we find five poses, all of which are classic pikeman drill and excellent apart from the man holding his pike horizontally in the second row. He is moving forward and holding the pike out in front of him, and is presumably meant to be executing the ‘charge your pike’ manoeuvre. However he holds the pike too far in front of his body, and is not looking down the pike, so we found him very unconvincing. All the pikemen wear classic costume of a morion or cabasset helmet, cuirass and backplate, and tassets on the thighs. The helmets vary somewhat in style but all look fine. The pikes are beautifully slender and are 57mm (4.1 metres) in length, which is a reasonable size and is enough to make them look very impressive.
The usual Zvezda format, which works very well in our view, always includes a small number of unique figures representing the specialists of the unit. Here we have first of all a drummer, who is fine but his drum is a particularly small example for the period. Also he has a sword, which is correct (though he was not expected to ever use it), or rather he has a scabbard, for the sword itself is missing, which is odd. Next we have a splendid standard-bearer, holding a good-sized flag which happily is not engraved with any design, allowing complete freedom to apply your own. Finally there is a captain, who again is quite splendid and reminded us of the officers some early Airfix sets contain as he holds both sword and pistol. The sash across his chest was the most obvious sign of his rank.
Comparisons are inevitable with the Revell set of the same subject, and the principal difference is that Zvezda have made extensive use of multi-part figures to achieve their poses. Looking at the sprue you can see that almost every figure has at least one arm separate and often both. As usual all these parts fit together very firmly without the need for glue, although occasionally the arm does not seem to quite go flush with the shoulder, although a little trimming will resolve that. Also the assembly can be a bit fiddly at times, but the results are impressive. Naturally this makes the figures more three-dimensional than the Revell figures, but the sculpted detail is excellent as always. Despite the multiple parts there is still some small amount of excess plastic in some places between weapons and body, but this is minimal. Again as per usual there is very little sign of the line where the moulds join, and there is no flash. However as our graphic shows these figures are too tall, standing on average 26mm (1.87 metres) tall when the average European man of the time was said to be some 20cms shorter than that, although it is true that taller men were recruited as pikemen for obvious reasons.
The Revell set of Imperial infantry for this period was very good, and Zvezda have added little with their set since both depict the obligatory drill poses for musketeers and pikemen. However the Zvezda figures benefit from the greater depth that their construction provides, and are certainly excellent and very attractive figures. The excessive height is a problem, especially when used alongside the Revell figures (see comparison below), but by themselves these are superb figures indeed.