The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Parts of an armour
  • Parts of an armour
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Italy
  • c. 1560
  • Steel and gold, etched and gilt
  • Weight: 5.78 kg, breast
    Weight: 3.26 kg, back
    Weight: 1.22 kg, pauldron (left)
    Weight: 1.24 kg, pauldron (right)
  • A53
  • European Armoury III
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • These pieces once formed part of a garniture belonging to Cornelio Bentivoglio (1519/20- 1585), a bellicose Italian nobleman, military commander and, first, a servant of the Empire under Charles V and later, in a change of loyalties, an ally of the French and Turks against the Habsburgs. In 1544 he also opposed the army of King Henry VIII of England during the Boulogne campaign, and in the following year was sent to Scotland to support Mary of Guise. In 1560, around the time the armour to which these parts belong was made, King Francis II of France created Bentivoglio a Knight of the Order of St Michael. Throughout his career Bentivoglio served the Este rulers of Ferrara, and in 1566 he joined Alfonso II d’Este’s campaign against the Turks in Hungary.

    The garniture of which these pieces formed a part certainly befitted the status of its warlike owner. It comprised a complete armour for war with all additional elements required for all primary forms of peaceful sporting combat, the most prestigious courtly spectacles of the age- joust, tourney and foot combat at the barriers. All of the surviving field elements, comprising a complete armour apart from the leg defences, are now in Vienna, in the collection of the Hofjagd –und Rüstkammer (inv. nos. 604, 604a). A boot-stirrup for the joust and tourney is also included in the Vienna group. The garniture’s locking gauntlet for the tourney is now in the Hermitage in St Petersburg (inv. no. Z.O. no. 3075). Finally the lighter cuirass for foot combat at the barriers is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (inv. no. 14.25.800-1). This garniture therefore had three full cuirasses, all of different weights and thicknesses, for dedicated use in the field, joust and foot combat; the field cuirass would also have been worn in the tourney.

    The Wallace Collection cuirass for the joust is by far the heaviest and most strongly built. Unusually for an Italian armour, the breast- and backplates are attached to each other at the shoulders and sides of the body not with straps, as was typical, but instead with hinged clasps of steel, locked by small hooks passing through pierced studs. This fastening system is found on French armour of the later 16th century, an interesting point considering the owner’s French associations in the Italian Wars. Conversely however, the current fastening devices may be significantly later additions. The breastplate is pierced with two large holes into which threaded sockets were once located, for the attachment of the reinforcing pieces for the joust. The upper socket accepted a bolt affixing the reinforcing bevor, while the socket positioned lower down on the left side held the grandguard. Although these pieces are now lost, their general design and appearance is illustrated by Wallace Collection A61. Like these fragments of another Italian jousting armour of the same period, the breastplate of A63 also exhibits the unusually low positioning of the lance-rest typical of this style.

    The pauldrons are also quite heavy, and can also be identified as pieces intended specifically for jousting, especially when the existence of the lighter field pauldrons in Vienna is taken into account.

    The broad, tapering etched bands which make up the decoration of this garniture are filled with vigorous scrolling foliage which, when new and fully gilded, would have created a very rich visual impression.