The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Sallet
  • Sallet
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Germany
  • c. 1510
  • Medium-carbon steel, quenched and tempered
  • Weight: 1.9 kg
  • A85
  • European Armoury I
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • A number of other surviving helmets were once painted, but have lost their original surfaces. This unusual sallet, its visor decorated with embossed eyes and nose, was once at least partially painted. In the middle of the 19th century it was still painted with black and yellow flames flowing over the skull from the front and the back. Two other sallets, with skulls of the same, rounded form (now in the collections at Žleby Castle in the Czech Republic and the Worcester Art Museum, USA), retain very similar paint schemes. The decorative similarity between these three helmets is especially interesting since it seems that painted sallets were often used, in the German lands at least, as a sort of proto-uniform; there is pictorial evidence that all the members of a particular fighting unit sometimes wore matching or at least similarly coloured helmets, sometimes accompanied by uniformly designed coats, hose, and other equipment. A painting (c. 1505-10) of a battle that was fought on 19 June 1502 between the forces of Nuremberg and Ansbach, in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg (GM.579), shows a band of light cavalry in action dressed in matching red coats and blue hosen, with red-painted sallets on their heads, while another group is similarly attired in grey. The famous Mittelalterliches Hausbuch (c. 1480; Wolfegg Castle, Regensburg, south Germany) illustrates the same practice (fol. 22r).

    There is no evidence that the visor of this helmet was ever painted, although the rudimentary embossed nose and eyes would perhaps have been more aesthetically successful had they originally been intended to augment a painted design, rather than having to stand on their own. There are however a number of other examples of this primitive early embossing, which, though far below the standards achieved by both Italian and German masters later in the sixteenth century, nevertheless exude a certain liveliness. A fragment of another sallet visor of similar form, embossed with a nose (but no eyes) has been excavated from the site of a fortified manor house in Spytkowice in Poland, while an infantry breastplate, dating from the last quarter of the fifteenth century, has had a strange, tear-drop face hammered into its middle just above the waist.