The Wallace Collection

Partial Field Armour made by Kolman Helmschmid and etched by Daniel Hopfer
Treasure of the Month - August 2008

Partial Field Armour made by Kolman Helmschmid and etched by Daniel Hopfer

This outstanding armour (catalogue number A28) is one of the finest examples of the Renaissance armourer’s art now in this country.

It exemplifies everything that a great work of art in this medium should be, a perfect marriage of technical functionality and aesthetic sophistication.

The Field Armour was probably made between 1525 and 1530 in Augsburg, one of the largest of most influential armour-making centres in Europe. Although it is not marked, this armour is undoubtedly the work of Kolman Helmschmid (1470-1532), one of the greatest armourers of his age and the third master armourer in his family line. Kolman worked for a number of powerful kings and princes, but his greatest patron was Charles V, German Emperor and King of Spain (1500-58, reigned 1516-56).

In about 1525 Kolman made a fabulous war armour for Charles V’s personal use, the famous ‘KD’ garniture (Karolus Divus- ‘the Divine Charles) now in the Real Armeria, Madrid. In style and construction this armour was a powerful demonstration of the unrivalled skill of the Helmschmid workshop. The very elaborate decoration was carefully balanced with the pure sculptural form of the piece, the main surfaces of which were purposefully left plain, smooth and polished to mirror brightness.

The most striking quality of the Wallace Collection armour is how similar it is to the Emperor’s own harness. It may have been commissioned by the Emperor as a gift for a relative, perhaps his younger brother, the future Emperor Ferdinand I. Overall, it is somewhat smaller than the KD armour. Like the KD armour this piece was a garniture for war, meaning it originally included extra parts or ‘pieces of exchange’, used to adjust the armour into several different configurations for combat both on foot and on horseback. These pieces are now lost, the only indication of their existence being the points of attachment in various places on the parts that remain.

Like the comparative armour in Madrid, the Wallace Collection example displays embossed, etched and gilt decoration of the most exceptional quality. It is both flamboyant and restrained yet never distracting the eye from the breathtaking grace of the essential shapes of the plates. The etched decoration is attributed to Daniel Hopfer (1470-1536) who is thought to have been the first to use etching in printmaking.

The armour is now missing several core elements, the most obvious being the leg defences. One lower leg and foot defence is now in the Royal Armouries in Leeds, while the other is in the Museo Stibbert, Florence. The left gauntlet was re-discovered in 2007 in Castle Frydlant in the Czech Republic; the whereabouts of the right remains unknown.

Further Reading

  • Godoy, José, Resplendence of the Spanish Monarchy (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991)

© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2008. Text by Tobias Capwell