A Parade Helmet by Kolman Helmschmid of Augsburg, c. 1520
This extraordinary helmet is a spectacular example of the way in which the work of the Renaissance armourer could be at once a superbly functional piece of equipment and a dramatic, impressive work of art.
The foundation of the work is a very fine steel skull, with an integral brow plate or peak and articulated neck-guard. Onto this base are attached beautifully-sculpted decorative plates, cunningly embossed, heat-blued, and fire-gilded. The edges of the skull have also been ‘roped’ with great skill, and the back has been embossed with the image of a large scallop-shell. The three main applied plates that decorate the brow of the helmet combine to represent a monstrous, double-tailed dolphin, while the sweeping, dramatic lines are both emphasised and balanced by a pair of gilded wings placed at the temples.
The decorative plates are attached by means of turn-pins and are therefore removable. This allowed the artist to create a visual effect that would have been impossible to achieve by simply embossing the skull itself, as Italian armourers often did.
Kolman Helmschmid was the third-generation master in his family. The Helmschmids were undoubtedly the greatest dynasty of armourers ever to have existed. His father Lorenz worked for the Emperor Maximilian I, and his son Desiderius counted King Philip II of Spain among his patrons. Kolman himself made many exquisite armours for the Emperor Charles V, including costume pieces in the fantastical ‘Vernacular’ style of German embossed armour, a group to which this helmet belongs.
Kolman is known to have made several other helmets in this flamboyant style. Designs for similar winged helmets are also found in the famous ‘Thun sketchbook’ (thought to have been destroyed), an album containing various manuscripts dealing with the subject of armour-making and including a large number of illustrations of the work of the Helmschmids, possibly created as some kind of pattern-book or inventory.
Find out more about this helmet in the free gallery talks at 1pm on Tuesday 9 and Tuesday 23 February.
LaRocca, Donald J., ‘Monsters, Heroes, and Fools’: A Survey of Embossed Armor in Germany and Austria, ca. 1475 - ca. 1575’, in A Farewell to Arms: Studies on the History of Arms and Armour (Delft: Legermuseum, 2004), pp. 34-55.
Norman, A.V.B., Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour Supplement (London: The Wallace Collection, 1986), p. 48-9, pl. 212.
Mann, Sir James, Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour (London: The Wallace Collection, 1962), pp. 110-11, pl. 61.
© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2009. Text by Tobias Capwell.