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
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • 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.