The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Partial armour
  • Partial armour
  • Attributed to Kolman Helmschmid (1470 - 1532) , Armourer
  • Attributed to Daniel Hopfer (1470 - 1536), Etcher
  • Augsburg, Germany
  • c. 1525 - c. 1530
  • Steel, copper alloy, satin, leather and gold, etched, pierced, chiselled, gilded and embossed
  • Weight: 16.3 kg, total weight
  • A30
  • European Armoury II
Commentary
History
Images & Media
  • This outstanding armour exemplifies the great work of a master armourer, a perfect marriage of technical functionality and aesthetic sophistication. Although it is not marked, it is clearly the work of Kolman Helmschmid.

    In about 1525 Kolman made a fabulous war armour for Charles V’s personal use, the famous ‘KD’ garniture (Karolus Divus- ‘the Divine Charles’) now in the Real Armeria, Madrid (A19). In style and construction the ‘KD’ garniture was a powerful demonstration of the unrivalled skill of the Helmschmid workshop. The very elaborate decoration was carefully balanced with the pure sculptural forms, the main surfaces of which were purposefully left plain, smooth and polished to mirror brightness. The most striking quality of the Wallace Collection armour is how similar it is to the ‘KD’ garniture. It may have been commissioned by the Emperor as a gift for a relative, perhaps his younger brother, the future Emperor Ferdinand I. Ferdinand became King of Bohemia in 1526, and immediately had to lead an army eastwards to uphold his claim to the throne. It is possible to conceive of the Emperor giving a fine armour as a gift to his brother, who was about to command troops in battle for the first time.

    Th armour shares with the KD garniture embossed, etched and gilt decoration of the most exceptional quality. Flamboyant and at the same time restrained, allowing the viewer to appreciate the sublime shapes of the plates themselves. A good armour was prized just as much for the beauty of the shapes of its components as for the rich decoration which further enhanced it as a status symbol. Form was extremely important as an end in itself. Even princely armours often exhibit large areas which have been left free of applied ornament, better to display the work’s sculptural qualities. Here, plain areas set off embossed, etched and gilt ornament of great intricacy and precision. The etched decoration can be firmly attributed to Daniel Hopfer (1470-1536), or his workshop, one of the first artists to apply acid-etching as a process in printmaking. Before this innovation, etching had been almost exclusively employed as a technique for the decoration of armour.

    Several core elements of the armour are now missing, the most obvious being the leg defences. One lower leg and foot defence is now in the Royal Armouries in Leeds (inv. III.851), while the other is in the Museo del Bargello, Florence (Inv.C1612). The left gauntlet was re-discovered in 2007 in Castle Frydlant in the Czech Republic, while the whereabouts of the right remains unknown.