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Jousting armour
  • Jousting armour
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Augsburg and Nuremberg, Germany
  • Date: c. 1500 - 1520
  • Medium: Low- to medium-carbon steel, leather, copper alloy; gesso, oil paint and wood, engraved, embossed, incised, pierced and painted
  • Weight: 40.91 kg, total weight
  • Inv: A23
  • Location: Not on display
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Further Reading

    Designed for the German joust of peace (Deutsches Gestech), run in the open field without a tilt, in heavy armour characterised by a distinctive form of ‘frog-mouthed’ helm. The object of the course was to strike the opponent accurately, but most importantly, as strongly and powerfully as possible. Leg armour was not worn, the legs being instead protected by enlarged bow-plates on the saddle. Riders were frequently unhorsed, and it was not unknown for rider and horse to be thrown to the ground together by a powerful impact. The German joust of peace was run with lances tipped with multi-pointed coronels; the deep cuts and grooves visible on this armour were caused by the coronel striking at an angle, so that only one or two of the tynes made contact.

    The apparent violence of this version of the joust did not however bring with it an equally high level of risk to the participants. Here injury or death was to be avoided at all costs. The design of the armour therefore strongly prioritised protection over mobility. The protection was also directed entirely against one threat only- the single oncoming lance of the individual opponent, whereas a war armour had to account for a multiplicity of possible dangers and balance that against the need for good mobility. In the joust, the lance almost always struck the left side of the head or body, so these areas have been very heavily reinforced. Even though it does not protect the legs (in this form of the joust the rider’s legs were protected by the saddle and the thickly padded horse armour, which extended around the sides of the horse’s chest), this armour is still twice the weight of a complete armour for war. The face plate of the helm is an impressive 6mm thick, with most of the the other elements being between 2 and 5mm thick, all contributing to a massive total weight of nearly 41 kg. Inside, the jouster would have found his mobility, and his senses of sight, hearing and touch, to be significantly limited. But he was safe. In an armour like this, accidental injury was almost impossible.

    This particular armour for the Deutsches Gestech belongs to a large series of armours from the old civic armoury (Zeughaus) of the city of Nuremberg. This group of Gestech armours were maintained in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for the annual Gesellenstechen, or ‘bachelors jousts’, in which the older sons of the rich merchant families of the city competed against each other in the manner of knights, even though they were not nobles themselves. As a free city ruled by the middle classes, Nuremberg was often in conflict with the aristocratic rulers of neighbouring regions. The bachelors jousts were one way in which the affluent, upwardly mobile middle classes in Germany appropriated the trappings of nobility, much to the annoyance of the real knightly class.

    The armour (or ‘Stechzeug’) consists of:

    HELM, composed of three main plates: (1) the SKULL, centrally ridged, the rear fluted; a domed screw is provided for the attachment of the crest in the centre; three pairs of large holes for the cords or leather laces used to keep the torse (a wreath or twisted scarf beneath the crest) in position. The edge is bevelled and bordered with half-round, brass-capped rivets which secure it to the other plates; average thickness about 4mm, at the peak 6mm. (2) REAR PLATE with flat central ridge and splayed fluting in the upper part above a ridge curving in a point; descending to the neck and extending over the back, the lower edge being slightly scalloped and furnished with a large hinge (or ‘charnel’) pierced for screwing to the backplate. Above this, a little to the left, is a buckle to which the small shield (Stechtarsche) was attached. On either side are four vertical apertures, barred, with four circular holes (fitted with brass eyelets) which were used for securing the quilted and padded lining worn inside. It is engraved with a foliated cinquefoil decoration on either side, a row of brass-capped rivets for the attachment of the lining and four holes on the border, average thickness 3mm. (3) FRONT- or FACE-PLATE strongly ridged down the middle, the upper edge boldly turned over; at the sides it is flanged and riveted to the skull, in front the turn serves to reinforce the edge; the space between this and the skull plate forms the sight. This has a width in front of 50mm. Shaped and bevelled lower edge pierced with three pairs of large, round holes (diam. 15mm) for screwing the helm to the breastplate. The edges of the sides are slightly scalloped, overlapping and riveted to the back-piece with brass-headed rivets. Three holes on the left border. The lining band is not riveted through, but is attached to a steel plate fastened at the ends. The surface is deeply cut and marked by lance impacts, many of which are square in shape. Average thickness about 4mm, at the sight aperture 13mm.

    BREASTPLATE, prominently boxed on the right side, the edges at the arm-holes are turned to a triangular section; a heavy lance-rest is fixed in the most prominent area. It takes the form of a bracket forged in one piece and is secured by a large screw and two studs; the arm of the lance-rest is supported by a moulded brace. The breast is attached to the backplate over the shoulders by means of heavy steel shoulder-straps, pierced with five holes and a slot to fit over the bolts of the backplate; broad steel straps provide the side fastenings under the arms. These are also pierced with five holes for similar fastenings. On the left of the breastplate are two large circular holes, through which passed the plaited cord of flax, provided for securing the shield. The lower edge is pierced with one hole for the attachment of the small plackart, and four large, round holes, tapped for screws, probably provided for the attachment of the original waistplate. The surface, like that of the helm, is pitted with several square lance-marks. The interior shows traces of adaptation, including blocked holes in the centre, probably made when the armour was in use. The thickness of the plate varies from 3mm to 7mm.

    QUEUE for supporting the rear end of the lance, consisting of a straight, flat bar, turned over at the end in a curve to hold down the butt-end of the lance. It is fixed to the breastplate beneath the lance-rest, and passed under the arm; it has a longitudinal groove on one side, possibly to lessen its weight, and is attached to the breastplate by a stud and two heavy screws; there are three holes for the front screw, thus allowing three alternative positions. Entirely a nineteenth-century reconstruction.

    PLACKART and FRONT SKIRT; the upper edge of the pointed and cusped plackart is bevelled and toothed at the top. Skirt of four bevelled plates (with V-shaped nicks in the centre) and four straps for the tassets.

    TASSETS, each comprised of a single plate, almost certainly later additions. The inner edges curved and turned under to a strong hollow flange of triangular section; embossed ridge down the middle, incised obliquely as a roped pattern. Each tasset carries two buckles secured by brass, rosette-headed rivets.

    The present waistplate and skirt which do not fit accurately may come from another armour of the series, but the large shield-shaped tassets are almost certainly later additions. None of the Nuremberg series is fitted with them, although tassets of this type were worn with German joust armour occasionally, as in the Gestech im Beinharnisch. Two Stechzeuge with comparable tassets are in the Musée de l' Armée, Paris (nos. G. 162-3; Niox, 1917, pI. 3).

    BACKPLATE, a later association, from an armour for the Rennen (Rennzeug), rather than for the Deutsches Gestech. It is built in three parts: the upper divides into two V-shaped branches and is secured by two screws to the middle plate, which is also of V-shape but reversed (the two parts together thus taking the form of a saltire); there are four holes for each screw and by this means the length of the backplate could be varied, to adapt the armour to different users. At the ends of both Vs are bolts for the attachment of the breastplate. The lowest plate (almost wholly concealed behind the upper plates and the rear skirt) is wedge-shaped at the top and there attached to the middle V-plate by five flush-headed rivets and a screw; it widens towards the base, the lower edge being pierced with a row of small countersunk holes. Riveted to the sides are portions of the original leathers pierced for lacing.

    This style of X-shaped backplate is found only on armours for the Rennen. They appear to derive from the crossed leather straps of the fifteenth-century light-cavalry breastplate as used in the German Lands. In this case, the top plate is of quite a different colour and has a different internal surface to the lower one and may be a later replacement. Both are stamped inside with the figure 8.

    REAR SKIRT of three plates decorated with fan-shaped fluting, entirely a nineteenth-century restoration. In this area there should be a vertical plate to which were riveted the leathers which were laced tightly round the hips to prevent a heavy fall from breaking the pelvis.

    On the waist-plate this is continued as engraved lines, the lowest plate is the largest; the upper edges are scalloped and bevelled. It covers almost the whole of the lowest plate of the backplate, to which it is attached by a single screw.

    ARM DEFENCES, the left arm genuine throughout, the right arm is a restoration except for one genuine part of the poldermitton.

    PAULDRONS, each built of five plates in all, the main one decorated at the back with radiating fluting and ending in an escalloped edge; the edge of the narrow topmost plate is strongly flanged, and fitted on the inside with a small stud for which a hole is provided in the steel shoulder-strap; the main shoulder-plate bears a turning-pin for the besagews, and a projecting sprocket of diamond section with square bevelled top (round which the tails of the lambrequin or mantling could be twisted). The scalloped borders at the back are pierced with small holes for the lining. The left COUTER of four lames, the middle one, which covers the cubitus, is articulated with one upper and two lower lames and is brought to a point; upper cannon for the arm of one gutter-shaped plate.

    The left pauldron is a nineteenth-century reconstruction to match the right one. The top lame of the right pauldron has been much altered and extended by means of a patch on its top edge. The projecting peg on the top lame of each pauldron should only be fitted on the right-shoulder. This is shown, for instance, by a glass painting of St. George by Hans Baldung Grien (H. Mohle 'Hans Baldung Grien zur 450. Wiederkehr seines Geburtsjahres', Pantheon, XV, 1935, p. 6). In the Imperial Armoury in Vienna are two joust armours of this type attributed to Konrad Poler of Nuremberg, each of which has a peg on the right shoulder only (inv. nos. S XVIII, BI 9, and S XVII, B90). The peg was presumably to prevent the lance from sliding off the shoulder when carried at the slope, as shown on several pages of The Triumph of Maximilian.

    MANIFER, protecting the bridle hand and forearm, extends from the left elbow to the fingers, where it is grooved; it has been lengthened by an addition. A reinforcing piece for the elbow, decorated with radiating fluting, protects the bend of the arm; the upper edge turned over and roped, the lower one escalloped, it is fastened to the manifer by two screws. The finger plate bears the Augsburg guild mark, and five other armourers' marks (the first of which being the Imperial Bindenschild (cf. gorget of tilt armour, A46). The reinforcing plate bears an S fermée and another mark (?Augsburg). Compare the manifer A279.

    VAMBRACE for the right arm has an upper demi-cannon above the elbow, of two lames, COUTER of three, the central plate over the cubitus being brought to a point like the left and is articulated with one upper and two lower lames, the last with dentated edge. Lower (double) cannon hinged and fastening with a buckle and strap. To this is riveted the POLDER-MITTON (a defence for the inner band of the right arm), which is decorated with elegant fluting, the inner edge is slightly roped, it bears the Augsburg guild mark and another (? the S fermée). There is no gauntlet for the right hand, which would be protected by the vamplate on the lance, and no other armourers' marks except those appearing upon the manifer.

    The manifer is genuine but the hole on the fore-arm for the ring by which it was supported from the lower part of the breast has been blocked. The wing of the left elbow is considerably later if not actually of the nineteenth century. It has three holes for bolts to attach it, but the manifer has only two. Of the right arm only the poldermitton wing is genuine.

    BESAGEWS, large and circular. That for the right shoulder is flat with a protrusion in the centre. It has a piece cut from the lower part of the circumference to accommodate the lance. That on the left has the rim slightly raised giving it a saucer-shaped section. They are each hung on leather straps from sprockets on the pauldrons. These are fastened inside the besagews by lynch-pins which engage with the shank of the bolt through the centre. At this point on the inner side each besagew has attached to it a metal tongue which is designed to act as a spring and ease the contact of the besagew with the breastplate when struck. Both besagews are scarred by many lance-blows.

    SHIELD (Stechtarsche) of oak about 28mm thick; covered with leather, coated with gesso and painted in oils. In the centre is a shield of arms argent, an eagle displayed or, within a border gobony of or and gules, surmounted by a helm with a crest of peacock's feathers and mantling; a broad band painted with conventional foliage runs around the edge. It is pierced with two holes for the plaited cord of flax for attachment to the breastplate, and is furnished with a strap for attachment to the helm. CT scanning has revealed an older coat of arms, with the device of a chevron surmounted by a fleur du lys, beneath the external paint layer.

    The arms on the shield appear to be a variant of Schlanderspach of Nuremberg: azure, an eagle displayed or, within a border gobony gules and argent; crest: a Peacock's tail.

    The original arms on the targe, which are just visible under the present crudely painted arms, were a fleur-de-lys or, with the same as a crest. At the Nuremberg tournament of 1561 Balthasar Christoph Gugel wore 'Blau mit gelben Lilien eingemalet, vnnd führet auff dem Helm eine Lilien', which he took from his family arms. Unfortunately the painting by Jost Amman illustrating this tournament shows Gugel's shield charged with a single lily but with no helm painted on it (K. Pilz, Z.H. W.K., XIII, pp. 74-80.)

    South German (Nuremberg with some Augsburg additions), c. 1500-1520.

    De Beaumont Catalogue, pl. 9; Laking, European Armour II, pp. 119-26, fig. 461; Clephan, Tournament, pl. IX, pp. 94-5; Gazette des Beaux-Arts, l' ère, XXV, 1868, pl. facing p. 382.

    Provenance: Louis Carrand (?) (une armure de Joûte dite de plançon, 12,000 fr. [with sword A711] and two other pieces]; receipted bill, 16 July, 1867); Comte de Nieuwerkerke.

    The largest group of these sturdy jousting armours designed for the German joust of peace, is in Vienna, where there are fifteen made for the Imperial court of the Emperor Maximilian I. At Nuremberg there is another group of seven (nos. WI 312, 1313, 1314, 1315, 1316, 1317, and 1318), reacquired by the Germanisches Nationalmuseum after the dispersal of the Nuremberg Zeughaus. These are in many respects closely similar in construction to A23. There are four at Paris (Robert, G 162-5; Musée de I' Armée, P. III), one in Brussels, and one, formerly in the collection of the Duc de Dino, is now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. A very similar one was in the Erbach collection, afterwards in that of Clarence Mackay, and now in the J. W. Higgins collection at Worcester, Massachusetts; one in the Army Museum at Warsaw by V. Siebenberger; one in the Hermitage at St. Petersburg; one is in the Schulthess collection at Zurich, formerly in the Berlin Zeughaus, another is in the collection of Viscount Astor at Hever; and an incomplete one is in the Scott Collection, now Glasgow Museums. The helm closely resembles those drawn with great detail by Albrecht Dürer about 1498. Three sketches of helms by that artist, now in the Louvre, Paris, probably represent two of the Nuremberg series (F. Winkler, Die Zeichnungen Albrecht Dürers, 4 vols., 1936-39, no. 177; A. V. B. Norman, Apollo, 1971, pp. 36-37).

    All of the Nuremberg Zeughaus armours were modernised to a greater or lesser degree by Valentin Siebenbürger and others about 1535, when they also added several more complete armours to the series. An example of one of the additional armours is in the Army Museum, Warsaw (Zlygulski, 1982, pl. 131). At that time, they were all given fluted pauldrons and arms in the so-called 'Maximilian' style. These armours were used throughout the sixteenth century for burgher jousts, like that illustrated by Jost Amman in his Das Gesellenstechen in Nürnberg am 3. März 1561, now in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (no. 49.43).

    Only one of the series still has a pair of what are probably the original arms. This is the armour now in the John Woodman Higgins Armory, Worcester, Massachusetts (no. 2580), which is said to have come from the Nuremberg Zeughaus via the collection of Graf Conrad zu Erbach (Grancsay, Catalogue, 1961, p. 59). Another helm of the series in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, also came from the Erbach collection (no. 29.156.67).
    It is possible that Wallace Collection A279 is a manifer made for one of these armours in their first form.

    For a list of surviving armours of this type see F. Sciballo, Studia do Dziejów Wawelu, III, Cracow 1968, pp. 335-61. C. Blair (April 1970) reported yet another in the Museum at Sibiu (formerly Hermannstadt) in Romania, stamped with the arms of the town of Sibiu.