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Parts of an armour
  • Parts of an armour
  • Attributed to Kolman Helmschmid (1470 - 1532) , Armourer
  • Attributed to Daniel Hopfer (1470 - 1536), Etcher
  • Augsburg, Germany
  • Date: c. 1525 - c. 1530
  • Medium: Steel, copper alloy, satin, leather and gold, etched, pierced, chiselled, gilded and embossed
  • Weight: 16.3 kg, total weight
  • Inv: A30
  • Location: Not on display
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    This outstanding armour exemplifies the great work of a master armourer, a perfect marriage of technical functionality and aesthetic sophistication.

    It is of the finest workmanship, decorated with sunken bands etched with scrolled foliage, cornucopias, grotesque figures and birds, on a gilt granulated ground, their inner sides decorated with embossed scallops etched with leaves and engrailed ornament. On the pauldrons, couters and tassets are placed conspicuous, sunk or embossed trefoils etched and gilt. The gauntlets, leg armour and reinforcing plates are missing, although several fragments of these parts are preserved in other collections (see below). With the exception of the gorget (made in France c. 1869) the armour is otherwise entirely without restoration, the helmet retaining its original quilted lining: it is almost certainly the work of Kolman Helmschmid, although it is not marked. Compare the armet A165, also produced in the Helmschmid workshop around this time.

    Comprised of:

    ARMET, having a finely moulded SKULL, the whole of the front of the skull and the greater part of its sides are embossed to look like a brow-reinforce.
    The midline ridge or keel is pierced with two holes for the panache and five pairs of smaller holes: two on either side and one at the back; the lower edge is embossed with a circular collar, itself embossed with cabling and scales, with a scale pattern, and hollowed to fit over the top plate of the gorget; at the back is fixed a shallow hook with a hole in it: strongly salient VISOR of one piece with cusped upper edge and two vision slits; it is heavily pierced for breathing, there being no less than 24 holes on the left and 26 on the right, in the upper part, with 52 holes and 4 horizontal slits on the left, and 23 holes and 17 slits on the right, in the lower; it has a shaped peg for raising, and a hinged hook to engage the right cheek-piece when raised; this hook is designed to hold the visor in a semi-raised position, which allows better ventilation whilst maintaining some protection for the face. The visor pivots (as armets of the fifteenth century) attach to the ends of the visor arms by means of concealed loose-pin clasps. The visor is locked down with a spring-catch; the edge is hollowed to a scaled roping; hinged CHEEK-PIECES, overlapping at the chin in front, where they are secured with a pierced stud and hook, five hearing holes on each side, with the immediate surrounding area of the surface etched with the image of a human ear, the lower edge like that of the skull) doubly roped and hollowed to fit over the gorget; a row of brass-headed rivets for the lining straps, a portion of the original lining, covered with red satin (now faded to yellow), remains. There are still fragments of the red silk arming-laces which secured the lining to the back of the skull.

    High GORGET composed of front and rear assemblies, each of four plates, the edges shaped and bevelled, the edge of the upper lame flanged, but not roped. Made c. 1869 (when Napoleon III presented the helmet to the Comte de Nieuwerkerke) so that it could be reunited with the remainder of the armour, which had recently come into the Comte’s possession.

    BREASTPLATE, with a deep chest and narrow waist, a strong central ridge, the top edge strongly flanged and hollowed with a scaled roping; the laminated gussets similarly roped; strong folding lance-rest, decorated with gilt arabesques, fitted with a spring catch, pierced with four holes for adjustment; two buckles of chiselled brass for the shoulder straps; the lower edge flanged to receive the front skirt. In the border at the neck are etched two female grotesques terminating in cornucopias, on each side of a flaming dish. Round the waist is a narrow band of gilt arabesques.

    FRONT SKIRT of three lames working on sliding rivets, the upper edges shaped and bevelled, the four straps for the tassets secured by brass-headed rivets and rosette washers.

    TASSETS of three deep lames working on sliding rivets, the lowest lame pointed, the top lame of each tasset furnished with two double buckles of chiselled brass. Each lame is prominently embossed with a gilt and etched trefoil in the centre.

    BACKPLATE decorated like the breast, furnished on either side with sprockets for the pauldrons, at the base a flanged plate is riveted on to receive the rear skirt; fitted with a waist belt, the buckle restored.

    REAR SKIRT of three lames, the upper edges shaped and bevelled.

    The lower edge of the lowest lame but one of the skirt at both front and back has a leather band riveted on to the inner side, presumably for the attachment of a mail skirt.

    PAULDRONS, decorated with branching trefoils sunk, etched and gilt. The left is composed of five plates, the third (main) plate is shaped upwards to form a small vertical neck-guard or haute-piece, the upper edge pierced with two key-hole slots (for a missing haute-piece extension), the lower lame furnished with a double brass buckle. The right pauldron is composed of seven plates. An unusual feature is a small additional plate on the lower edge of the main plate at the back working on a sliding rivet and kept down by a steel spring; this device was intended to facilitate the couching of the lance, allowing the plate to collapse upwards when the butt of the couched lance applied pressure to it, and snapping back down when the lance was taken out of contact. The same device is present on the KD garniture of Charles V at Madrid (see below) and on the contemporary Helmschmid armour associated with Wilhelm von Boxberg of Nuremberg (c. 1525, Armeria Reale, Turin, Inv. B2) The lower lame is furnished with a single buckle.

    VAMBRACES, the upper cannons with turning joint of five lames, the leather tab for pointing to the arming doublet being decorated with cinquefoil brass eyelets and bordered with small brass rivets; couters with embossed trefoil on the cubitus at the end of a raised and scaled stalk, and two branching trefoils on the heart-shaped tendon guard, sunk, etched and gilt; lower cannons of two principal plates, the outer one extended to fit over the elbow, the underside hinged and fastening with a stud. There are two subsidiary lames articulated at the top to guard the elbow-joint.

    Made by Kolman Helmschmid of Augsburg (1470/1-1532), etched by Daniel Hopfer (1470-1536), c. 1525-30.

    Laking, European Armour III, 313-15, fig. 1069; and IV, 105, fig. 1188; Capwell 2011, pp. 86-7.

    Provenance: E. Juste (Parties d' armure du 16e Siècle très finement gravée et dorée consistent en: Cuirasse complète avec tassettes et garde-reins, épaulières et brassards, 3,750 fr.; receipted bill, 3 January, 1869); Comte de Nieuwerkerke.

    The reason why no mention of the helmet is made in the above bill is explained by an anecdote related by the comte R. de Belleval regarding ‘une armure d'une grande richesse et d' une forme admirable a laquelle manquait le casque’. In about 1860, the Emperor Napoleon III had acquired a helmet from the Soltykoff Collection and in the early part of 1869, the Emperor, knowing that his Surintendant des Beaux-Arts coveted the piece, generously presented it to him. As the rest of this armour was not purchased by Nieuwerkerke until January 1869, it was probably only then that the helmet was recognised as belonging to it, and became an object of desire on the part of the Comte. The helmet was no. 125 of the Emperor's collection at Pierrefonds, and was catalogued by Penguilly l' Haridon (Catalogue des collections du cabinet d' Armes de sa Majesté l' Empereur, Paris, 1864) as follows:

    ‘125 Bel Armet allemand de même époque et de même construction que le précédent. Richement orné de bandes dorées et gravées avec la plus grande finesse. Décoration repoussée et gravée. Le ventail et le nasal sont criblés d' ouvertttres... Provient de la collection Soltykoff.’

    A30 is the only piece from the Emperor's collection which the Musée de l' Armée in Paris does not today possess, corroborating de Belleval's anecdote.

    The left greave and sabaton belonging to this armour are now in the Royal Armouries, Leeds (inv. no. III.851). These have suffered considerably from rough treatment, presumably after the armour left its original home early in the 19th century. The right greave and sabaton are now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence (inv. no. C1612), ex- Carrand collection. The right gauntlet was discovered in Frydlant Castle in the Czech Republic in 2010 (inv. no. 2359, F1619).

    Its wonderful quality shows that this armour must have been built for someone of great distinction. It exhibits close technical and decorative similarities to other armours made in the Helmschmid workshop in the 1520s, including those now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (inv. no. 29.150.3b–p; dated 1524; Wallace Collection A165 probably belongs to this armour, which now lacks its helmet) and Turin (inv. no. B2, traditionally associated with Wilhelm von Boxberg of Nuremberg). This armour may have been commissioned by the Emperor as a gift for a relative, perhaps his younger brother, the future Emperor Ferdinand I. Ferdinand became King of Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia in 1527 and, slightly later, fought alongside the Emperor in the tournament celebrating his enfeoffment with the Austrian hereditary lands at Augsburg in 1530; this event is depicted in a monumental print made by Jörg Breu the Elder in 1536 (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, H7379).

    It seems possible that the helmet now on A30 was exchanged by the comte de Nieuwerkerke with the Emperor rather than being a present from him. The sixth plate prepared by Edouard de Beaumont to illustrate the abortive catalogue of the count's collection shows a close-helmet now in the Musée de l' Armée, Paris (inv. no. H.104). It had previously apparently been in the collection of Frédéric Spitzer, and is illustrated in L' Art Ancien, no. 368, which shows part of the arms and armour exhibited by Spitzer in the Musée Rétrospectif of 1865. Although the meagre catalogue entries for this exhibition make identification difficult, this helmet was probably described under no. 1791. (Norman, J.A.A.S., VII, PI. XLVI, A). The field helmet now in Paris belongs to a garniture made by Anton Peffenhauser for Stefano Doria and etched by Jörg Sorg in 1551. The left field arm, left pauldron for the tilt, two gussets from the breastplate, and the round target are in the Armeria Reale, Turin (respectively nos. C115, C116, C117, and F43; see Hayward, Bolletino della Società Piemontese di Archeologia e di Belle Arti, N.S., An.II, pp. 62-4; Becher, Gamber and Irtenkauf, 1980, fol. 14v). The breastplate for the field, long tassets terminating in poleyns, a pair of gauntlets, and a left greave originally apparently terminating at the ankle, all parts of this same garniture, are now in the Worcester Art Museum (ex.- John Woodman Higgins Armory; 1961 cat. no. 423).