The Wallace Collection

A Composite Armour for the Field and Tournament German, c. 1525-40
Treasure of the Month - May 2013

A Composite Armour for the Field and Tournament German, c. 1525-40

Very few complete armours, which retain all their original parts, survive from the Renaissance. The vast majority of armour made during the sixteenth century has either been lost or destroyed in the intervening four centuries.

However, a great many more fragments of fine armours, or armour pieces have been preserved. A helmet or a gauntlet may survive while the rest of its armour has been lost, or a once complete armour may now be missing some key element- its legs, arms or helmet for example.

During the nineteenth century, Renaissance armour became hugely fashionable among collectors. This trend led to an enormous demand for complete armours, a demand which greatly outstripped the number of entirely authentic examples available. To serve this new market, dealers in antique arms frequently constructed full armours using fragments from different sources, often combining them with newly made restorations. For the collector who wished to decorate his study or drawing room with armoured figures, complete authenticity was often not the most important factor.  

This fascinating armour is one such composition. It would never have been worn as it is now, indeed it probably did not exist in its current form until c. 1850. While some of its pieces were made in the nineteenth century when it was put together in its current form, a number of the elements of this armour are of exceptional quality and historical importance.  It is made up of high quality pieces from both Northern and Southern Germany.

Germany had been one of the greatest European centres for the production of armour since the early Middle Ages, with Augsburg, Nuremberg, Landshut and Innsbruck, all in the south, being its four great armour-making cities. In North Germany, Brunswick and Cologne were also home to many skilled armourers.

The South German parts of this intriguing composite are the helmet, gauntlets and breastplate. The last was made in Augsburg, and carries a mark from the workshop of the Helmschmids, perhaps the greatest armourer family of all time. The close-helmet and gauntlets were made in Landshut, which in the 1530s was rapidly becoming Augburg’s foremost competitor.  

The unknown dealer or collector into whose possession these fine pieces came in the mid-nineteenth century combined them with various north German parts, including the left elbow, the shoulder defenses, backplate and upper legs. It was also necessary to have new pieces made up, since all of the original elements still did not make up a complete armour.

In this way this armour not only preserves a number of very significant fragments, but also embodies a fascinating story of how such pieces continued to be altered and arranged long after their working lifetimes were over.

Gallery Talks
A Composite Armour for the Field and Tournament, Friday 10 and Tuesday 28 May at 1pm: Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour.

Further Reading
Capwell, Tobias, Masterpieces of European Arms and Armour in the Wallace Collection (London: Paul Holberton, 2011), pp. 88-9.

Norman, A.V.B., Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour Supplement (London: The Wallace Collection, 1986), p. 11.

Mann, Sir James, Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour (London: The Wallace Collection, 1962), pp. 33-36, pl. 16.