The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Close-helmet
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • France
  • c. 1575 - c. 1580
  • Iron or steel, gold and velvet, embossed and gilt
  • Weight: 2.605 kg
  • A172
  • European Armoury II
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Close-helmet, of characteristically French form, with a skull made in two pieces, joined together along the comb, which is roped and roughly pierced with three holes for a crest, flanged and produced in the lower part at the back to form a neck-guard; the visor is flanged to fit into the bevor, has a wide aperture for the sight (see also A174) and also a lifting-peg on the right side; salient bevor furnished with a pierced stud at the lower edge to engage the hook on the chin-piece; the latter like the skull, is turned outwards at the base to form a gorget-plate, and lined with crimson velvet (? modern); the lower edge is roped like the comb, and has rosette-headed rivets for the lining band.
    The entire surce, now bright, has been embossed overall with scenes in relief of combats fought by figures in Roman armour, mounted and on foot; on the comb are embossed and chased cherubs' heads and strapwork, and on the gorget, trophies of arms, each including a sleeping lion. The centre of the front gorget-plate is embossed with a female figure bearing laurels in each hand, seated between scrolls from which swags of fabric hang, all flanked by military trophies. Traces of gilding remain on the plain bands and borders, and it is likely that the piece was once fully-gilt like other surviving examples of the highest-quality French work.

    This helmet belongs to the same group as the embossed armours of Erik XIV (formerly called Charles IX's) at Stockholm, and three in Paris, two of which are in the Musée de l' Armée (G 50 and G 259), and the other (Henri II) in the Louvre. Baron Cederström has shown that details of the ornament of the Stockholm armour are based on engravings in the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung at Munich (Z.H.W.K. XV, 42-3, and in his monograph Skokloster Sklöden, 1945; see also Thomas, Vienna Jahrbuch, LV (1959), pp. 31-74). The Stockholm armour was bought in 1562 from an Antwerp goldsmith named Eliseus Libaerts for 1,300 taler. Compare also the embossed half-armour (lacking its helmet), which was in the Magniac (1890) and Mackay Collections (Christie's, 1939, lot 58); and an embossed comb morion in the Warsaw Museum.

    The Wallace Collection shield A321 is another example of the style (see Grancsay, Met. Mus. Bulletin, New York, Summer,1959).

    This helmet corresponds with the description of lot 1641 in the Pourtalès-Gorgier sale, Pillet, Paris, 8th March 1865, bought by Juste for 3.190 fr. (marked catalogue in the library of the Wallace Collection). This would then correspond with Juste's receipted bill of 19th June 1865, 'Un casque en fer repoussé, 9000 fr.' with other pieces including Nos. A416 and 417, and possibly A1248. The Magniac/Mackay armour mentioned in the 1962 Catalogue is now in the Higgins Armory, Worcester, Mass. (Inv. No. 2549; 1961 Cat., pp. 80-1).
    There are, in fact, two morions embossed in French style in Poland; one in the Polish Army Museum, Warsaw, Krasiński collection, No. 87, the other in the Czartoryski collection, Cracow, No. XIV-409 (B. Thomas, Vienna Jahrbuch, LXI, 1965, pp. 41-90, Figs. 114 and 115 respectively). Another is in the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad (Z.O. No. 3419). The Lochorst cuirass in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, is No. 38.137a-c, and was published by S. V. Grancsay in the Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum, XXXVI, 1939, pp. 84-8. The scheme of decoration on No. A172, with its classical battle scenes covering all the main surfaces, differs from that of the surviving pieces of armour based on the approximately 146 drawings attributed to Etienne Delaune, in the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, and elsewhere.

    The quality of the embossing on A172 is not of the exceptionally high standard of the pieces thought to have come from the presumed French Royal Workshop nor from the workshop of Libaerts, either in the accuracy of its line or the crispness of the hammer-work. It should, therefore, probably be regarded as the work of someone very strongly influenced by the fashion of the French Court.

    Elements of armour which are strictly comparable in being decorated all over with battle scenes uninterrupted by scrollwork or other ornament except at the edges are: 1) A close-helmet, the two main plates of a gorget, and a pair of vambraces in the Musée de l' Armée, Paris (No. H.93; Reverseau, Les armures des rois de France, 1982, pp. 62-3); 2) A close-helmet in the Armeria Reale, Turin (No. E24; Mazzini, 1982, No. 71); 3) A left pauldron with cavalry combats, including elephants, in the Musée de Cluny, Paris (No. CL712). 4) A close-helmet, peascod cuirass, a pair of pauldrons and arms (lacking couters), and a pair of gauntlet cuffs, all of about 1575-80, in the Army Museum, Warsaw (No. 209/l-9x; Zygulski, Stara broń, 1982, PI. 138). It has been suggested that they are from an armour of Henri III of France (1574-1589), who was for a time also King of Poland (Reverseau, op. cit. 1982, PI. 35); 5) A round target in this Collection No. A321, but with landscape represented above the scenes of combat.

    By the 1580s this particular style, little altered, had reached the German Lands; compare, for example, a gilt brass burgonet with silver mounts made in Augsburg, in the old Electoral Armoury at Dresden. This was given to Christian I by his wife at Christmas 1589 (Inv. No. 141; Haenel, 1923, PI. 30; and Schöbel & Schaal, 1981, PI. 3).