The Wallace Collection

Italian armour for parade, c.1576-90
Treasure of the Month - January 2007

Italian armour for parade, c.1576-90

The entire surface of this truly magnificent armour is covered in extremely elaborate decoration, produced through a combination of embossing, gilding and damascening (inlay) in both gold and silver.

The armour is an outstanding example of High Mannerist metal work, with ornamentation typical of the neo-classicism of the period. Diverse motifs such as Hercules and the Nemean Lion, Roman soldiers, allegorical figures, mythical beasts, and bound captives are all contained in rich strap-work bands set against a complex background filled with silver cartouches and tiny, twisting arabesques. The overall design is further enhanced with swags of fruit and masks that bridge the areas between the main bands.

This armour stands out as one of the very finest of a large group of pieces in this style that survive around the world today. It belongs to a group of three armours of princely quality, the other two being an armour of Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza (Hofjagd- und Rustkammer, Vienna) and a child’s armour made for Philip III, King of Spain as a boy (Real Armeria, Madrid). The original owner of the Wallace armour is unknown, although there is a reasonably reliable tradition that it was made for Alfonso II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, Modena, Reggio, and Chartres, a great patron of the arts and literature in late 16th-century Italy.

All three of these spectacular armours were probably made by Lucio Marliani, also called Piccinino (active 1575-95), one of the most famous goldsmith-armourers of his age. Piccinino, in collaboration with the designer Andrea Casalini, probably invented this staggeringly complex style in about 1576, after which time it was imitated by numerous other artists.

The armour is today incomplete; it probably once included a visored close-helmet, cabasset (a type of open faced helmet), leg defences and gauntlets. A gauntlet now in the Art Institute of Chicago (no. 1818) may originally have formed part of the armour.

This armour is also significant to the history of the Wallace Collection. In 1818 it was acquired from an Italian collection by Sir Samuel Meyrick, the father of the modern study of arms and armour, and immediately became one of the high points of his collection. In 1871 much of Meyrick’s collection was acquired by Sir Richard Wallace

Further Reading

  • Godoy, José and Silvio Leydi, Parures Triomphales: Le maniérisme dans l’art de l’armure italienne (Geneva: Musées d’art et d’histoire, 2003)
  • Sir James Mann, Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour (London: The Wallace Collection, 1962) Supplement by A.V.B.Norman, London 1986