The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Burgonet
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Italy
  • c. 1550
  • Iron or steel, gold and canvas
  • Weight: 1.64 kg
  • A107
  • European Armoury I
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • For the Renaissance prince who wished to build a relationship between himself and the heroes of the ancient world in the eyes of his people, armour was an essential part of public life. As an expressive art-form it could be used as a to hide the mortality of the human being inside it, or as a way to intensify and glorify, the wearer’s identity, virtues and associations.

    By the middle of the sixteenth century, artists had developed a rich Classical vocabulary, their imaginations stimulated by the study of ancient monuments and works of art. Greek and Roman myths and literature was another important source of inspiration, summoning up images of the ancient heroes in all their superhuman splendour. Taking their themes directly from these sources, Italian Renaissance armourers taught themselves how to work steel into dynamically expressive forms which at their best rivalled any sculpture in marble or bronze. All ‘antica armour also had one quality which other forms of sculpture did not possess, a quality of crucial value to the Renaissance prince. It was wearable.

    The Wallace Collection includes a number of helmets and other pieces of armour of the ‘Heroic’ style, stunning demonstrations of metalworking virtuosity. This piece makes a direct visual reference to ancient mythology- its brow is embossed and gilt with a lion’s head, no doubt intended to invoke the Greek hero Hercules, who was generally depicted wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion which he had killed in the first of his twelve labours. Lion masks are one of the most common all ‘antica motifs, being also a more
    general symbol of nobility, power and ferocity.