The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Partial armour
  • Partial armour
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Italy
  • c. 1630
  • Steel, gold, canvas, tow, silk, leather, velvet, gilt-metal thread, incised, pierced, embossed and gilt
  • Weight: 11.62 kg, total weight
  • A67
  • European Armoury II
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • This armour is a good example of how subtle changes in the condition of an object over time can dramatically alter its appearance and visual impact. Today this mid 17th-century Italian field armour looks quite plain and unremarkable. The construction of the various pieces is typical and uncomplicated, and there appears to be no obvious decoration.

    However, upon closer inspection this armour reveals itself to have once been quite rich and impressive. One remarkable aspect is the survival of the original decorative edgings or ‘piccadils’, which form an ornamental border around the outer edges of the pauldrons, cuirass and gauntlets. These piccadils, made of silk velvet embroidered with gilt metal thread (probably silver-gilt) , were originally a bright iridescent green; over time they have become stained and darkened. The piccadils would not only have emphasised the borders of the armour and added flashes of luxurious colour to the armoured body, they also had a practical function- to quiet the armour by inserting soft buffers between the overlapping plates. This is an armour that would certainly not have clanked; as the wearer moved, a quite clicking would have been the only sound it produced.

    Another significant feature of this armour is the surviving helmet lining, a very rich example faced with crimson silk, rather than linen or some other more modest material. The lining is also very dense and thick, and would have provided a very effective shock-absorbing barrier between the steel of the helmet and the skull of the wearer. To achieve a strong, protective density, the lining was first quilted with stout lines of cross-hatched stitching. Each diamond-shaped parcel in the quilting was then individually stuffed with tow (flax fibres). This method of construction allowed the maker to determine the exact density and thickness of the armour lining with precision. The slashes in each of the parcels, through which the tow stuffing was pushed, can still be seen on the exterior surface of the lining (which would have faced the interior of the helmet and thus been hidden from view).

    If one looks closely, a fair amount of fire-gilding is also in evidence. Most of the surviving gilding can be found on the hinges and clasp-fastenings of the armour, which alone would once have produced a magnificent effect. However there are also traces of gold on the main plates of the armour itself, suggesting at least partially gilding. What now appears to be a plain steel object once glittered with bright yellow-gold, alongside the colourful textile elements.