Partial field armour, c. 1525 (detail)
Probably by Kolman Helmschmid of Augsburg
For the warlike rulers of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, weapons and armour were among the most personal and essential of art-forms. This was not just the equipment of war and tournament- it was also one of the most ornate and ostentatious forms of fashionable display. Encasing one’s body in etched and gilded steel armour from head to toe was the supreme status symbol, transforming the wearer into a shining, god-like being, all colour and radiance. And by equipping himself with the best weapons available, a nobleman declared to all that he was not merely a pen-pushing official or idle courtier, but a man of action.
The artists behind these stunning works of art, the great armourers, sword-makers, and gunsmiths, were often celebrities in their own right, in demand throughout the western world. Like other great artists working in many other media, the creators of fine armour and weapons thrived under the patronage of great lords and noblemen. Since their work was so personal, bound up inseparably with the patron’s identity and place in the world, the products of that work was often collaborative- patron and artist often worked together to create things of singular elegance and frequently, total uniqueness.
The Wallace Collection includes among its several thousand pieces of arms and armour a number of objects made for or associated with some of the most famous figures in European history. Although the names of these powerful people are world-famous, their love of weapons is perhaps less well understood.
This virtual tour looks at some of these important objects, and through them explores the stories of their famous owners and the historic events that defined their extraordinary lives.