The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Armet with two exchangeable visors
  • Armet with two exchangeable visors
  • Wolfgang Grosschedel (1517 - 1562) , Armourer
  • Landshut, Germany
  • c. 1535 - c. 1540
  • Steel, etched
  • Weight: 3.374 kg
  • A164
  • European Armoury I
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Richly etched with foliage, flowers, hares, and hounds, the armour to which this fine helmet and gauntlets belong is a testament to the virtuosity of South German armourers in the sixteenth century. It was made by the great Landshut master Wolfgang Grosschedel, probably for Pankraz von Freyburg (1508-65) of Schloss Hohenaschau. Wolfgang Grosschedel was one of the most famous armourers of his age. The favourite of King Philip II of Spain, he also made rich garnitures for the Emperor Ferdinand I and his son and successor Maximilian II. He appears to have served as a journeyman or apprentice at the English royal workshops of King Henry VIII at Greenwich, being named in a royal workshop list of 1517-18. Yet by 1521 he was back in Germany, when he was recorded as a citizen of Landshut. The Freyberg armour demonstrates that by the 1530s, if not before, he had become a master in this own right. His works exhibit a harmony between their distinct elegance of form and their complex, yet restrained, etched decoration.

    The armet is significant since it is the only one in the Wallace Collection with two visors. By the early sixteenth century knights had to be prepared to fight in a number of different ways, each form of combat requiring specific armour and weapons. These two visors are interchangeable, both fitting perfectly onto the same helmet skull, each designed for a particular combat use. The first is made in two parts, a lower face-defence and an upper guard for the eyes and brow, and for use in war. It offers good protection from a wide variety of weapons while also allowing reasonable vision and ventilation. The upper part of the visor can also be raised while the lower part remains locked in place, or alternatively, the whole visor can be raised as a single unit. The second visor is quite different, being made in a single piece and pierced with many more holes and slots. The wearer’s ability to see and breathe are therefore much improved, but the protection it can provide is reduced by comparison with the war visor. It was almost certainly designed for the tourney, a type of tournament combat fought in teams with rebated swords or clubs.

    This garniture’s etched decoration features hunting as its primary theme; packs of hunting dogs pursue their prey through the beautiful bands that decorate the helmet’s borders and medial ridge, while birds peck through the undergrowth along the cuffs of the gauntlets. Human figures and ornaments are taken from engravings by the German printmaker Barthel Beham. One of the most striking ornamental details is the boarhound collar, complete with fearsome spikes, etched so as to encircle the wearer’s own neck. It is almost as though the knight himself has become a furious hunting dog, straining to be let loose by his feudal master. Similar collars appear on a number of other Landshut helmets, including the bevor of a close-helmet in the Victoria and Albert Museum (c.1530-50; inv. M538-1927).

    The whole Freyburg garniture was probably decorated by Ambrosius Gemlich, a master of the difficult art of acid-etching. Here he employed two distinct etching techniques. The first, ‘basic’ etching, involved the ornamental design being burned into the metal through the selective application of acid, perhaps nitric acid. The second, more advanced technique –usually called ‘raised’ etching– is a more complicated process, in which the background is etched into the steel rather than the design itself, allowing the design to remain proud against a sunken ground. In this case the very detailed contents of the ornamental bands are picked out using the raised etching technique, while their edges are framed and accentuated with further embellishments created in basic etching. The Freyberg garniture is a fine example of the dramatic effect to be achieved by using both forms of etching together.

    The helmet and gauntlets appear to have been separated from their armour since at least the 1850s. They appear in two studies, probably by an English artist, drawn around 1855. The Wallace Collection helmet is shown mounted on an Italian armour now also in the Wallace Collection (c. 1570; inv. A54), while the rest of the armour is shown mounted with a different helmet and a later horse armour attributed to Wolfgang Großschedel, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (horse armour dated 1554; inv. 23.261).