The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Full armour
  • Full armour
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Germany
  • c. 1500- 1510
  • Medium-carbon steel, quenched and tempered, etched
  • Weight: 19.56 kg, total weight
  • Inscription: Crowned 'W' and 'G·I·G·M·E
    Inscription: '·IHESVS · NAZARENVS · REX · IVDEORV'
    Inscription: Crowned 'W' and 'G·I·G·M·E
    Inscription: '·IHESVS · NASARENVS · REX · IVDEORVM'
  • A22
  • European Armoury I
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Very few of the full armours in modern museum collections are complete. Either they are missing key elements, or they are ‘composite’ in their construction, meaning they have been made up, often in the 19th or 20th centuries, using parts which once belonged to several different armours. It is extremely unusual to encounter an armour which retains its original appearance, and which thus remains faithful to the artistic and technical intensions of the maker.

    This is one of those rare armours. Apart from the greaves and sabatons and some pieces of the gauntlets, which are 19th-century restorations, the rest of the armour is complete and homogeneous. It is also in remarkably good condition. It is a field armour, for war rather than jousts or tournaments, representing very well the kind of armour worn by knights and men-at-arms during the Italian Wars, especially the second, third and fourth (1499-1526), and in conflicts between the Renaissance rulers of Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

    From even a short distance away, this armour looks very plain and undecorated, with its remarkable presence stemming from its smooth, rounded, polished surfaces and elegant proportions. Looking closer however, the breast and backplates are shown to be decorated with fine etched ornament. Twisting, budding rose-vines on the sides of the breastplate frame a crowned W monogram, a hand pointing to the mongram, a scroll carrying the acronym DIDME or GIGME (the letter G is sometimes reversed in German inscriptions of this period), and an invocation of the name of Jesus, in Latin. This group of images and inscriptions is repeated on the backplate, which instead of rose-vines has a narrower recessed band containing scrolling foliage.

    The W monogram almost certainly belongs to Wladilaus II (also Vladilaus, Ladislaus, Vladislav, Ulászló), King of Bohemia (1471-), Hungary and Croatia (1490-) (1456-1516). This does not mean that this armour belonged to the King himself- it is not nearly rich enough for someone of royal status. More likely the armour was made for a lord or knight in the service of the King. The W monogram was used very widely during Wladilaus’ reign, and many examples of it survive today on 16th-century architecture remaining in Prague, the former capital of Bohemia.

    Despite the fact that it is one of the most interesting armours in the Wallace Collection, its place of manufacture remains uncertain; it carries no armourer’s marks. It compares well in different ways to several other German armours surviving from the same period, but these all come from different places. Armour fashions and technical features often migrated between all of the great centres of German armour-making, especially between Nuremberg, Augsburg and Landshut. It is therefore difficult in this case to identify a place of origin on stylistic grounds. This armour could conceivably have been made in any of these places, or, alternatively, even in the Imperial city of Innsbruck.