The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Visor
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • North Italy, probably Milan
  • c. 1525 - 1550
  • Medium-carbon steel, extensively hot-worked, embossed
  • Weight: 1.275 kg
  • A205
  • European Armoury I
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Detached grotesque visor from a close-helmet, an exceptional demonstration of metal embossing, here achieved, remarkably, in hardened steel. It takes the form of the face of a dragon, complete with scales and reptilian fins decorated with lines of staring eyes, a typical feature of the Renaissance conception of dragons. When the visor is raised, the creature’s jaws appear to yawn open.

    No doubt the lost armour to which these piece belonged was likewise embossed with scales, dragon’s wings, and staring eyes. One source for this fantastic creation may have been literary, the Renaissance epic poem and ‘bestseller’, Orlando Furioso, a chivalric romance by the poet Ludovico Ariosto (1516; reprinted in 1521 and 1532) set against the backdrop of a fictionalised war between Charlemagne and Agramante, the Saracen King of Africa. One of the most prominent Saracen heroes is Rodomonte, distinguished by his invulnerable armour made from a dragon’s skin and his ability to tear his enemies’ inferior iron armour apart as though ‘it were made of pewter or even tree-bark’. Perhaps the lost armour to which this unique visor belonged may have been conceived to give material form to one of the most popular ‘superhero’ images of the time.