A Painted Sallet, South German, c. 1500
This rough, ‘munition’ sallet was in its working lifetime a common, unremarkable object. Its uneven lines, bumpy surfaces and jagged edges testify to the fact that its maker was working quickly. His workshop was no doubt making a large number of these helmets, and they had to be cheap, had to work, but did not have to be pretty. The grinding and polishing phase of the armour-making process, so vital to the creation of the mirror-bright harnesses associated with the knightly class, was here dispensed with entirely; the surface is still covered in hammer-marks. The so-called ‘owl-faced’ visor is of the simplest form possible, a bare, curved plate cut with two slots of the eyes and two for the mouth, with five holes pierced over the nose.
The design gave basic protection to the face while requiring no more of the armourer’s time than was absolutely necessary. This is not the helmet of a knight, but rather of a lower-class man-at-arms, a rank-and-file heavy infantryman, light cavalryman or mounted crossbowman. Ironically, today what were the least numerous, most expensive armours are the most common in museum collections, while munition armours, which were substantially more abundant to say the least, are now rare in the extreme.
Even rarer is munition armour that, like this helmet, retains its original painted decoration. A great deal of armour left ‘rough-from-the-hammer’ seems to have been brightly painted, with heraldic devices or livery colours. The helmets were sometimes emblazoned with monstrous, scowling faces, a fashion still popular with some modern soldiers.
Paint was an inexpensive way of decorating low-grade armour, the rough, hammered surfaces being an ideal base onto which the slow-drying, linseed oil-based paint could adhere. A painted finish was still somewhat fragile however, and only a handful of early sixteenth-century helmets survive today with their original surfaces even partially intact.
The sides of this helmet are painted with large monogram N’s, which may indicate that its owner was in the service of the city of Nuremberg. This helmet is also noteable since it retains its original padded textile lining and the leather loops for the chin-strap.
The Wallace Collection helmet, with its fearsome, tusked visage, can be compared to other contemporary German helmets in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich, the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg and Glasgow Museums.
There will be a free gallery talk about this helmet on the 4 and 20 January at 1pm with Tobias Capwell.
- Norman, A.V.B., Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour Supplement (London: The Wallace Collection, 1986), p. 44.
- Mann, Sir James, Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour (London: The Wallace Collection, 1962), p. 101, pl. 56.
© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2011.
Text by Tobias Capwell.