The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Bascinet
  • Bascinet
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • North Italy
  • c. 1380 - c. 1400
  • Medium-carbon steel, air-cooled
  • Weight: 1.72 kg
    Height: 30.8 cm
    Circumference: 68.5 cm, at base
    Circumference: 65.3 cm, at the forehead
  • A74
  • European Armoury I
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • The term barbuta (Eng. ‘barbut’; Fr. ‘barbute’) is found in Italian documents as early as the middle of the fourteenth century. It seems initially to have referred sometimes to a piece of mail armour, while in other instances it clearly indicates a particular species of bascinet. The idea of a mail ‘beard’ (It. barba; barbute: ‘bearded’) agrees very well with the image of the fourteenth-century bascinet with its long mail aventail hanging, beard-like, over the chin and throat. Whatever its origins, the barbut had become a common helmet for men-at-arms in Italy by the late 1300s, to the extent that the term came to be used to refer to the man-at-arms himself, as well as his helmet.

    With its graceful, rounded skull, swept gently into the nape of the neck, it is easy to see the barbut as the immediate precursor to the sallets of the fifteenth century, in fact it is quite difficult (and perhaps unnecessary) to determine where the bascinet/barbut ends and the sallet begins. A comparatively large group of these helmets, among some two hundred and fifty pieces of armour, was found in 1840 during building work at the medieval fortress at Chalcis (Gr. Chalkida) on the island of Euboea in Greece. Chalcis was a key point in the strategic containment by Christian forces of Turkish expansion during the fifteenth century, and the principle Aegean base held by the Republic of Venice, until its capture by Mohammed II in 1470. The armour found at Chalcis dates from the late fourteenth century to the time of the Turkish conquest. Several of the Chalcis barbuts have longer neck guards, making them look even more like sallets than does the Wallace Collection example. One of the Chalcis finds, now in the Archaeological Museum, Athens (B1), has a pair of studs on the brow as does the Wallace Collection barbut. These studs are clear evidence for both helmets once having been worn with a small ‘Klappvisier’. Barbut visors seems to have been of a very particular form, for the most part narrower than the bascinet klappvisiers worn in Germany and elsewhere. One such visor is today in the Museo Stibbert, Florence (Inv. 3575) while another, formerly in the Gwynn Collection, retains its hinged pivot, pierced with two slots designed to engage with the brow staples of the barbuta to which it belonged.