The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Sallet
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Germany
  • c. 1515
  • Iron or steel
  • Height: 24.8 cm
    Weight: 3.04 kg
  • A83
  • European Armoury I
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • The latest sallet in the Wallace Collection can be seen as a fascinating mixture of old and new styles. It dates from the time when the older fashion for plainer, smooth-surfaced armour was rapidly giving way to the new taste for the heavily fluted designs referred to collectively as the ‘Maximilian’ style. In form it is very much like the other, slightly earlier full-faced sallets in the collection, composed of a gracefully rounded skull, gently sweeping, articulated neck guard, and flattish visor cut with a pair of sights and numerous ventilation holes and slots.

    Though it is conventional, even conservative in its construction, it also embraces the latest decorative fashion. Its skull is embossed with three tight groups of four flutes each, one group positioned on either side of the crest-line, while the third group runs down along it. The middle two flutes of the central group have been raised higher than the others to form a wide medial comb, additionally decorated with pairs of diagonal file-strokes. As is typical of the Maximilian style, each of the flutes is given greater definition and emphasis by framing them on either side with bold file-lines. The sights and breath slots of the visor are augmented visually in the same way. Although simple in construction, the decoration marks this work as a helmet made for someone of notable rank, perhaps an infantry sergeant or captain. It probably would have been worn with a three-quarter armour decorated to match, very similar perhaps to one depicted in one of a series of woodcuts published in the first half of the sixteenth century by David de Negker of Augsburg and Niclas Meldemann of Nuremberg. The fact that the visor of this helmet has been carefully shaped to fit around and under the chin suggests that it was intended to be worn with a gorget, as pictured in the woodcut, rather than one of the late bevors discussed above. Soon the sallet itself would follow the bevor onto the scrapheap of history, to be replaced by the morion and burgonet.

    In the present day, the sallet has in a sense been reborn, in the riot-helmets employed by many police forces around the world. These modern helmets, with their rounded skulls, rear neck-guards and pivoted visors, follow precisely the same design approach which informed the creation of the early sixteenth-century sallets in the Wallace Collection. A major riot today has much in common with a pre-modern battle, so it is perhaps not very surprising that contemporary helmet designers have returned to an ancient and highly functional form, even though they are probably unaware that they have done so.