The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Partial armour
  • Partial armour
  • Lucio Marliani, called Piccinino (1538 - 1607)
  • Milan, Italy
  • c. 1570 - 1590
  • Very low-carbon steel, gold, silver, copper alloy, leather, gold braid and velvet, embossed, gilt, blackened, and damascened
  • Weight: 10.9 kg, total weight
  • A51
  • European Armoury II
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • This is one of a well-known group of rich armours decorated in the Mannerist style, of which the entire surface is embossed, gilt and elaborately overlaid in gold and silver. They are attributed to the famous armourer, Lucio Marliani, called Piccinino, of Milan.

    The armour consists of:

    Gorget, of two main plates (front and back), and a high collar of three lames, hinged and fastening with a turning-pin and stud; the edge of the upper lame turned over to a hollow roping; the main plate is decorated (in front) with a Roman warrior and two satyrs holding cornucopias, and (at the back) a crouching female figure holding a vase of fruit, with satyrs making music on either side; there are two loops on the shoulders for the pauldron straps.

    Breastplate, of peascod form; roped gussets with two buckles for the shoulder straps; the base flanged to receive the single skirt plate, and furnished with two turning-pins; the interior blackened with paint. In the centre is a figure of Mars standing within an arch, supported by addorsed satyrs; below, a small figure of Charity; at the top the head of Medusa supported by two addorsed captives; on either side are seated figures of Fame and Victory. The panels at the side are decorated with figures representing Wisdom, justice, Faith, Truth, Hope and Temperance, alternating with grotesque satyrs and chimaeras.

    Skirt, of one lame pierced on each side, with keyhole slots for the turning-pins on the flanged edge of the breastplate; it has six straps for the tassets covered with crimson velvet, bordered by gold braid and fastened with brass-headed rivets and rosettes, both of the latter probably modern.

    Tassets, each of one plate, furnished with three double buckles for the straps, the lower edge turned under and roped; bordered with brass-capped rivets for the lining. Decorated, like the breastplate, with bands containing embossed figures and trophies and panels and bands of arabesques.

    Backplate, with turned-under and roped edges at the top and the gussets, the lower edge flanged and turned under. Decorated in the central band with Hercules strangling the Nemaean Lion, with a grotesque horned mask above, beneath putti blowing trumpets and the figure of Mercury. On either side are figures representing the liberal arts: Music, Astronomy, Architecture, Learning, Dancing and Geometry (?).

    Pauldrons, each composed of seven plates, two upper, one main plate and four on the upper arm; the uppermost plate furnished with a red velvet strap and buckle to engage the loop on the gorget, the lowest also furnished with strap and buckle and pierced with an oblong slot for the turning-pin on the upper cannon; the rivets and interior straps of the lower lames are modern. On the shoulder is embossed a large grotesque mask with festoons of fruit on either side; this is repeated on the back and front of the same plate, the edge above the arm pierced with a row of small holes, possibly for sewing in the lining; the borders embossed with nude female figures, putti, and sphinxes interlaced with scrollwork. The ground overlaid, like the breastplate, with fine arabesques.

    Vambraces, the upper cannon with turning-joint, fitted with red velvet loop and turning-pin; couters of three plates, with heart-shaped extension protecting the bend of the arm; hinged lower cannons fastened over a stud; the whole decorated with masks, figures in classical costume, festoons of fruit, and overlaid in silver and gold.

    The decoration consists of broad bands embossed with heroic standing figures and trophies in low relief; the flat areas between are crossed at intervals by embossed swags of fruit, the surface is decorated with silver cartouches filled with minute arabesques overlaid in gold and silver.

    Italian (Milanese), c. 1575-90, the work of Lucio Marliani, called Piccinino.

    Skelton, I, pl. XXXIII; Meyrick Catalogue, pp. xv and 56, no. 742; Laking: European Armour, III, p. 337, fig. 1085.

    Provenance: Sir S. R. Meyrick; Frédéric Spitzer.
    Exhibited with this armour, but not belonging to it, is the peaked morion, A 133.

    Meyrick stated that this half-armour ‘belonged to the renowned Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, Modena, Reggio, and Chiaxtres [Chartres], Prince of Carpi, Count of Rovigo, Lord of Commachio, Garfagnana, etc. the patron of literature and the arts, and whom the pen of Tasso immortalised in the dedication to him of the Gerusalemme Liberata’, but the source of this information has not been traced.

    The attribution to Piccinino is based on the famous armour at Vienna of Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma (Tower of London, Austrian Exhibition, 1949, no. 28). P. Morigia, in his book, La Nobiltà di Milano, published in 1595, describes the richness of Milan in artists and craftsmen, and praises Piccinino as a master of ‘damascening’, i.e., ‘false-damascening’ or overlay in silver and gold. He refers to an armour which Piccinino made for the Duke of Parma and this has been assumed to be the armour at Vienna mentioned above. It has similar embossing but the background lacks the very fine foliate scrolls present on A51.

    See Thomas and Gamber, L'Arte Milanese nell' Armatura, Storia di Milano, XI, pp. 789-94, and p. 809. See also J. Lauts, Vienna Jahrbuch, N.E., X (1936).

    Other armours of similar design include that presented to the Infante by the Duke of Terranova at Madrid (Real Armeria, B4); the parade harness made for Philip III (A 291-4) also at Madrid; a breast and backplate in the Hermitage; another illustrated by Lièvre (Rothschild Collection); a portion of a suit in the Riggs Collection, Metropolitan Museum, New York, known as the Duke of Alva's (inv. no. 14.25.714, from the Liria Palace, the Madrid home of the Alba family, where other pieces of it are also said to survive, with parts of another comparable armour; see Nickel, Pyhrr and Tarassuk, The Art of Chivalry, 1982, no. 20, illus.; see also Laking, European Armour, IV, fig. 1223); a breastplate in the Victoria and Albert Museum (ex-Bemal; M.144-1921, illustrated in Hayward, Armour, 1951, pl. 23). Compare also the armour of the Duke of Sessa at New York, and a vambrace formerly Sir Guy Laking's and later in the possession of Sir James Mann (sold Christie's, 7 May 1981, lot 65, repr. in cat.). The Infante Philip is portrayed in a similar armour in a painting of him as a boy, accompanied by Time, Cupid and Justice, by Justus Tiel in the Prado at Madrid; published by S. V. Grancsay, ‘Lucio Piccinino, master armorer of the Renaissance’, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, N.S. XXII, 1964, pp. 257-77; Godoy, José-A, Parures triomphales: Le maniérisme dans l'art de l'armure italienne, 2003; Soler del Campo, Alvaro, The Art of Power: Royal Armour and Portraits from Imperial Spain (2010).
    Compare also the half-armour here, A 52, and the pageant shields, A 325-31.
    Provenance: this armour is no. VI of the unpublished catalogue of Dominic Colnaghi's collection prepared by Meyrick in 1818, and no. 5 of the list of armours acquired by Meyrick from Colnaghi a little later, now in the Library of the Royal Armouries.

    Exhibited: Manchester Art Treasures, 1857; J. B. Wareing, Art Treasures of the United Kingdom from the Art Treasures Exhibition, II, pI. 9 [with A120]; Planché, 1857, p. 14); S. Kensington, 1869 (Illustrated London News, LIV, Jan-June 1869, illus. on p. 344, nos. 3, 6 and 7).

    Lièvre, Les collections célèbres, pI. 8; Thomas and Gamber, Storia di Milano, XI, pp. 788-92; Rossi, Armature da parata, 1971, pI. XI.

    To the comparative material can be added the portrait of King Sigismund of Sweden in a very similar foot-combat armour in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg (inv. no. 2598); and a portrait, the property of A. R. Dufty, possibly of Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, in an armour similar to the one at Vienna ascribed to him (Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer, inv. nos. A1048-9). A portrait of an unknown-man, attributed to Anthonis Mor, in a comparable armour, was on the Paris art market many years ago (photograph in the Witt Library, Courtauld Institute of Art). A portrait rather tentatively identified as Pietro dei Medici (1554-94) and attributed to Tintoretto, in the Prado, Madrid (1972 cat., no. 367), also illustrates yet another comparable armour.

    The lower three lames of a pauldron decorated in this style are in the Museo Stibbert, Florence (Boccia, 1975, no. 125, pI. 120). A left gauntlet in the Harding collection in the Art Institute of Chicago (no. 1818) could be part of A 51. A buff apparently from the armour of Philip III of Spain at Madrid (Real Armería, no. A291-4), given him by Duke of Savoy in 1603, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum (no. M. 111-1921; Hayward, Armour, 1951, p. 51, pl. 25).
    Paolo Morigia in chapter XVII of the fifth book of his La nobiltà di Milano, published in Milan in 1595, describes Lucio Piccinino as being the son of the famous sword-cutler Alessandro Piccinino, who died in 1589 (see A540), and brother of Federico, another sword-cutler (see A646). Morigia writes that he ‘works in relief on iron and silver, whether in grotesque figures or other strange animal forms (and in) leafwork and landscapes he is most excellent, and particularly skilful in his damascening, and has made some outstanding armours for His Serene Highness the Duke of Parma, Alessandro Farnese, and for other Princes which are regarded as rare objects’. He was still working when Morigia was writing.

    It is only fair to say that if the attribution of the Farnese armour at Vienna to Piccinino is incorrect, Morigia also named other men famous for their skill at damascening who might possibly be the author of this group of armours.

    The armour in Vienna, in spite of being of thin metal heavily embossed all over and therefore quite impractical for fighting, is made as a small garniture. It has an open-helmet for use by a light horseman or infantryman, an oval target for use on foot, and a reinforce for the left shoulder as if for the tourney course, as well as a pair of symmetrical pauldrons for service without a lance, which, by the removal of the front lowest plate of the right wing, can be used with a lance.

    Four original designs for parts of this armour also survive, the helmet in the Cabinet des Estampes, Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris, the left shoulder and the left arm in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, and the left greave in the Kunsthalle, Hamburg; see Godoy 2003.

    Comment 2011
    Although the decoration on Renaissance armour is often very rich, it rarely covers entire surfaces. In certain spectacularly ornate cases however, the decoration is so extensive and elaborate that no plain metal is visible. One such example can be found in the Wallace Collection. Here almost every decorative technique available to the Renaissance metalworker has been employed in the execution of what is armour-art at its greatest, a rich combination of embossing, chasing, gilding, silvering, and inlay in both gold and silver. The dense decorative scheme beautifully expresses the Classically inspired approach which typifies the High Mannerist period, in which very detailed, lifelike figures and scenes are placed within a strange, improbable landscape made up of architectural, animal, and plant elements. Populating the bizarre, mythical world of this armour are such diverse motifs as Hercules and the Nemean Lion, Roman heroes, allegorical figures, mythical beasts, and bound captives. All of these features are contained within rich strapwork bands set against a intricate background filled with cartouches and twisting arabesques inlaid in silver, which contrast elegantly with a dense, golden tangle of miniscule foliate scrolls. The overall design is further enhanced with hammock-like swags of fruit and grotesque masks which form regular bridges between the main bands.

    The armour was almost certainly made by Lucio Marliani of Milan, called Piccinino (active 1575-95). While a number of other members of his family were accomplished swordsmiths, Lucio distinguished himself as perhaps the greatest goldsmith-armourer of his age. In collaboration with Andrea Casalini, a draftsman from Parma, Piccinino devised a staggeringly complex new style by about 1576, which then was imitated by numerous other armourers. The Wallace Collection armour, a virtuoso masterpiece, might be considered the conception of two artists working closely together to unify their creative ideas, first exploring their designs on paper before realising them in metal. Such collaborations were not uncommon in the Renaissance, and they serve to remind us that armourers, far from being simple military technicians, in reality represented an integral and highly influential part of a much wider and very diverse artistic community.

    Numerous other examples of armour in the Mannerist style survive. The Wallace Collection armour is closely comparable to two other princely armours made by Piccinino. One was for Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza (Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer, Vienna, A1132 and A1153); a number of Casalini’s original designs for this armour have been identified, and serve to emphasise his close working relationship with his armourer colleagues. The other is a child’s armour, made for the future Philip III, King of Spain (Real Armeria, Madrid, B4 and B5). The original owner of the Wallace Collection armour is unknown, although there is an old and perfectly plausible tradition that it was made for Alfonso II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, Modena, Reggio, and Chartres, a great patron of literature and the arts in late sixteenth-century Italy. Alfonso famously rejected violence, preferring to rule his lands primarily through peaceful means. It is fitting therefore that his armour should in fact be nothing more than a elaborate costume. Despite its strong and heroic appearance, it is in fact made of very thin, very soft metal, a material that could never have provided effective protection in combat.

    The Wallace Collection armour is today incomplete; it probably once included a cabasset and gauntlets, and perhaps also a visored close-helmet, leg defences and shield. A gauntlet now in the Art Institute of Chicago (no. 1818) may belong to it.