The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Parade helmet
  • Parade helmet
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • France
  • 2nd quarter of 17th century
  • Iron or steel and gold, embossed and gilt
  • Height: 35.5 cm
    Weight: 0.85 kg
  • A111
  • European Armoury III
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • The original owner of this characteristically French helmet cannot be identified, but we can understand something of its original context by looking closely at the helmet itself, as well as armour and pictorial depictions relating to it.

    The helmet itself is very thin and lightweight, weighing only 0.85 kg. It cannot therefore have been intended as anything other than a costume piece, in an age when the bullet-proof helmets of the heavy cavalry or cuirassiers typically weighed between 2.5 and 5 kg. It is embossed with foliage and fan-like patterns, gilt against what was probably once a heat-blued ground. Such rich decoration suggests a very high-ranking, if not royal owner. The high comb, which still carried vaguely classical associations at this date, is surmounted by a wide scroll which can only be considered a product of the seventeenth-century imagination. The crest is also pierced with a number of small holes indicating that it once carried a tall ridge of ostrich-feather plumes. Such crests had been a popular ingredient in artistic conceptions of ancient heroes since the Renaissance, appearing for example in the design album of the Italian artist Filippo Orsoni (dated 1554; Victoria and Albert Museum, London, E.1725-1929- E.2031-1929). They derived ultimately from original Roman sources such as the Arch of Constantine (315 AD). A similar helmet crest appears in Pierre Mignard’s equestrian portrait of Louis XIV (1692; Musee National du Chateau, Versailles), worn by the airborne personification of Victory, who crowns the king with a laurel wreath.

    Several other French helmets of a similarly unusual form survive. A three-quarter armour of King Louis XIII (French, c. 1620-30; Musée de l’Armée, Paris, G123) may have been made in the same, possibly Parisian, workshop as the Wallace Collection piece; its helmet bears a number of closely comparable features- the embossed decoration, the lines of small, brass-capped rivets, and perhaps most characteristically, the scrolled terminals on the brow, nasal, plume-holder and tail. Two more helmets, again probably from the same workshop and both of the same ‘close-burgonet’ construction are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; one carries a scrolled ornament on the peak, while the other features a high comb à l’antique, and both feature lightly-embossed decoration. (c.1620-30; Inv. 1997.341 and c. 1640; Inv. 14.25.604). Like the Wallace Collection helmet, they are very light in construction. However another very similar example, probably made around the same time as the Wallace Collection helmet and exhibiting the same fan-like pattern, was certainly intended for battlefield use, as it weighs nearly 5 kg (Higgins Armory Museum, Worcester USA, Inv. 702.a). Similar helmets also sometimes appear in French portraits of the time, associated with the three-quarter armour of the cuirassier.