The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Burgonet
  • Kolman Helmschmid (1470 - 1532) , Armourer
  • Augsburg, Germany
  • c. 1520
  • Iron or steel and gold, blued and gilt -Goldeschmelz- and etched
  • Weight: 2.9 kg
  • A105
  • European Armoury I
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • This helmet is a spectacular example of the way in which the work of the Renaissance armourer could be at once a superbly functional piece of equipment and a dramatic work of art.

    The foundation is formed by a very fine steel skull, with an integral brow plate or peak and articulated neck-guard. Onto this base are attached beautifully-sculpted decorative plates, cunningly embossed, heat-blued, and fire-gilded. The edges of the skull have also been ‘roped’ with great skill, while the back has been embossed with the image of a large scallop-shell. Continuing the marine theme, the three main applied plates which decorate the brow of the helmet combine to represent a monstrous, double-tailed dolphin, while the sweeping, dramatic lines are both emphasised and balanced by a pair of gilded fins placed at the temples.

    The decorative plates are made separately, attached by means of turn-pins and therefore removable. This allowed the artist to create a visual effect that would have been impossible to achieve simply by embossing the skull itself, as Italian armourers usually did.

    The Helmschmid family of master armourers is known to have made several other helmets in this fantastical style. Another, perhaps made by Lorenz Helmschmid between 1490 and 1500 for Philip the Handsome, King of Castile (1478-1506) (Real Armeria, Madrid, Inv. C.11) employs the same design approach as the Wallace Collection helmet, in which a plain, functional sallet is used as the base onto which embossed, blued and gilt plates forming the face and wings of a fierce beast or monster are applied. Designs for similar winged helmets are also found in the ‘Thun sketchbook’. In fact, the dolphin-headed, winged helmet, derived from earlier Italian models, was so popular in German Renaissance art that it became something of a stock image.