The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Partial armour
  • Partial armour
  • Michel Witz the younger (1539 - 1588) , Armourer
  • Innsbruck, Germany
  • 1555
  • Steel, copper alloy and leather, blackened, embossed, and etched
  • Weight: 1.53 kg, burgonet
    Weight: 2.43 kg, gorget and spaudlers
    Weight: 4.47 kg, breastplate and tassets
    Weight: 2.15 kg, backplate
    Weight: 1.22 kg, vambrace (right)
    Weight: 1.14 kg, vambrace (left)
    Weight: 0.28 kg, besagew (right)
    Weight: 0.31 kg, besagew (left)
  • Inscription: 'W.E. G.I. D.R.G.S. H.D.G.G. 1555'
    Inscription: '1555' Etched
  • A37
  • European Armoury III
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Forming the greater portion of a fine harness for military use on foot, this armour is comprised of entirely original, matching elements apart from the tassets, which are later replacements. The originals would have been attached to the lower flange of the skirt by means of straps and buckles. It is the work of the Innsbruck master Michel Witz the Younger, who was probably the son of an earlier armourer of the same name.

    While the plates themselves are well-formed and quite attractive, the most immediately striking aspect of this armour is the etched decoration, especially the very prominent crucifixion etched onto the right side of the breastplate and accompanied by a kneeling, armoured figure on the left side, possibly the owner of the armour himself. Above the head of this figure praying before Christ on the cross is a floating scroll on which is written

    W•E• G•I• D•R•G•S• H•D•GG• 1555

    It has been suggested that this cryptogram might represent the inscription

    ‘Wir-Ehren Got, In Der Rechtes Gesinnung Seines Heiligen Dienstes GeGründed’

    which could be translated in English as ‘We honour God grounded in the righteous spirit of his Holy service.’

    The date is also unusually prominent, featuring not only on the scroll but also appearing within the central strapwork band on the backplate.

    Images of the Crucifixion are actually quite rarely found on 16th-century armour in general. From 1517, when Martin Luther composed his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences and thus ignited the Protestant Reformation, depictions of the Passion and other Catholic imagery had become increasingly controversial. The Protestants rejected such iconography as idolatrous, which in turn led to its use being strongly reinforced during the Counter Reformation.

    This armour is not the only one known to carry this kind of imagery. A number of closely comparable armours, including at least one other also by Michel Witz II, have been preserved in the city arsenal at Graz. This second Witz armour was made for Kaspar, Freiherr zu Völs-Schenkenberg, Chamberlain of Archduke Charles II of Styria, son of the Emperor Ferdinand I and a staunch proponent of the Counter Reformation. At this time Protestant books were being burned in Graz, while in Innsbruck, the seat of Charles’ brother Ferdinand, Archduke of Tyrol, it was Protestants themselves who were being immolated below the Emperor Maximilian I’s Golden Roof in the city square.

    This armour, made in the middle of the Counter Reformation, may therefore be a potent Catholic statement. The way the crucifixion is depicted on the breastplate, with ghostly cups catching the blood of Christ as it spills from his hands and side, are an overt reminder of the Catholic worship of the Holy Blood, and indirectly of the veneration of relics in general, a Protestant anathema. If the interpretation of the meaning of the inscription is correct, it also reinforces the message that the wearer of this armour is a true-believer, a person of the ‘Rechtes Gesinnung’, the righteous mind-set or spirit.