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A North Italian etched and gilt three-quarter cuirassier armour, probably Milan, Circa 1600-10
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16
A North Italian etched and gilt three-quarter cuirassier armour, probably Milan, Circa 1600-10
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Details & Cataloguing

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A North Italian etched and gilt three-quarter cuirassier armour, probably Milan, Circa 1600-10
of shot-proof weight, comprising close helmet with heavy one-piece skull rising to a low roped comb, fitted at the nape with a plume-holder (replaced), pierced on each side with a slot for a strap, peak, upper bevor and bevor attached by common pivots with radially fluted heads, the peak projecting forward to a rounded obtuse point, upper bevor flanged outwards to form the lower edge of the vision-slit, pierced on the right with a circular arrangement of eight holes around a central hole, secured to the bevor by a hook and stud, bevor secured to the skull by a pierced hasp and turning-pin, two gorget-plates front and rear; collar of a single plate front and rear, secured at the right by a stud and key-hole slot and fitted with a swivelling hinged loop at each side for the pauldron-straps; heavy breastplate formed in one piece with vestigial peascod, low roped flanges at the neck and arm-openings, struck with a small proof-mark at the top of the chest, fitted at its right with original folding lance-rest attached by two screws, flanged outwards at the base and carrying at each side a tasset of eighteen lames with detachable poleyn of four lames, the third with small wing; heavy backplate matching the breastplate, struck with the proof-mark of a bullet at its left shoulder and a pistol-proof mark at base of the back, fitted at each shoulder with a swivelling hinged single-ended buckle, and at its flanged lower edge with three turning-pins for the attachment of a broad culet of five lames; later greaves with articulated sabatons; a pair of full arm-defences comprising asymmetrical pauldrons each of seven lames overlapping outwards from the third, connected by a turner to a pair of vambraces, each formed of a tubular upper and lower cannon linked by a couter of three lames with a small oval wing front and rear and enclosed at the inside of the elbow by twelve lames overlapping inwards to the seventh, the lower cannon secured at the front by a hinged hasp and turning-pin; a pair of gauntlets with markedly flared cuffs closed at the inside by a rivetted overlap, articulated by a wrist-plate to five metacarpal-plates and a shaped knuckle-plate (finger and thumb-scales missing); the principal borders with file-roped inward turns, decorated throughout with etched and gilt ornament on a blued ground with slender vertical panels of cabling giving issue at either side to sprigs of trefoil foliage and the principal borders with broad bands of stylised acanthus involving flowerheads on a stippled ground, the whole releathered and in stable condition throughout
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Provenance

Joachim Friedrich, Elector of Brandenburg (1546-1608, Elector from 1598), by tradition;
Friedrich Wilhelm IV, King of Prussia (1795-1861);
Schloss Monbijou, Berlin  

Schloss Monbijou was built in 1703 by Count Johann Kasimir von Wartenberg and presented to the Prussian Queen Consort Sophie Dorothea in 1710 by her father-in-law King Friedrich I in 1710. It was enlarged in 1726 and in 1738 and was renowned for its porcelain collection by the middle of the 18th century.   It ceased to be used as a Royal residence by the early 19th century and became the Hohenzollern Museum in 1877.  At this time most, but not all of the armoury, was transferred to the Zeughaus in Berlin where much of it still remains.
Burg Hohenzollern, Baden Württemberg

Exhibited

Preußen-Versuch einer Bilanz, Berlin Martin-Gropius-Bau, 15 August - 15 November 1981

Catalogue Note

The weight, proof marks and form of this armour indicate that it was designed for mounted combat and not parade or tournament use.  Another three-quarter armour with almost identical decoration, formerly in the collections of the Dukes of Este, was at Konopiště Castle, Benešov, Czech Republic (inv. D245) and is now on display in the Schwarzenburg Palace, Prague Castle.A further armour with closely related decoration was made for Alof de Wignacourt, Grandmaster of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (1601-22).2,3 The main borders of the present armour are very close in design to those of the armour for tournament at the barriers made for a young Farnese Prince, probably Alessandro, now preserved in the Capodolista Armoury, Naples.4 This last armour may present a clue as to the original owner of the present armour. The armours discussed above form part of a group of thirteen full and eight three-quarter cuirassier armours, a number of which have attributed to the ownership of the Royal House of Savoy.  The most famous of the group is that made for a member of the Barberini family, now preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. 26.210).However, their common feature is more one of all-over decoration rather than a matching decorative theme that might denote a single family or officer corps or a single workshop.6

The cuirassier was the descendant of the medieval mounted knight and ancestor of the heavy cavalryman.  The term was adopted in the first quarter of the 17th century, at a time when the heavy lance was beginning to fall out of use on the battlefields of Northern Europe. Captain Cruso stated in his Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie in 1632 that the cuirassier "is to be armed at all points [...] his horse not inferior in stature and strength, though not so swift. He must have two cases with good firelock pistols hanging at his saddle [...] and a good sword stiffe and sharp pointed like the Lancier". The cuirassier played a prominent role in the Thirty Years War and even took part in some of the early engagements of the English Civil War.The increased efficacy of firearms is reflected by a correspondingly greater weight in armour.  The present armour has been tested for its quality against both musket and pistol bullets as shown on the breast and backplates.  The practice of proving armour against weapons appears to have already existed in antiquity and is recorded by Plutarch. The earliest references to proving armour in the Middle Ages dates from the 14th century, with the rise in popularity of plate armour. In 1401, Francesco Gonzaga gave instructions to the Venetian armourer Zoana that he should "make proof of the said armour with a good crossbow". This practice was commonplace by the middle of the 15th century and crossbows were replaced by firearms in the 16th century.  By the early 17th century armour that was not proofed would have been of very limited use if any at all.8

The most important centres of armour manufacture in Renaissance Europe were based in northern Italy and southern Germany, with a number of workshops exporting throughout Europe.  Milan was perhaps the most dynamic centre from the 15th century, and home to the renowned dynasties of armourers the Missaglias and the Negroli.  The latter produced the most sumptuous armour for the Holy Roman Emperors, the Dukes of Urbino, as well as the French and Spanish Royal courts.Milan was also famous for its distinctive etched and gilt ornament that is proudly displayed on the armours of numerous royal and aristocratic sitters in portraits of the 16th and 17th centuries.  The earliest known example of true etching on a piece of armour occurs on a late Italian breastplate which has been (probably erroneously) ascribed to the ownership of Bartolommeo Colleoni (1399-1475).  It is interesting to note that a number of German artists who are now more famous for their engraved prints and etchings actually decorated armour themselves.  Such masters include Daniel Hopfer of Augsburg, who decorated an armour dated 1536 for the Emperor Charles V,10 and Ambrosius Gemlich. Italian etched armour is well known for its profuse decoration and similar decorative motifs and schemes were often produced by different workshops. Caution must be therefore exercised when ascribing pieces with similar ornament to a specific workshop of ownership in contrast to German work.11

It is likely that this armour was commissioned by an Italian nobleman, but that it was either presented by him to its purported noble German owner, or subsequently acquired by the heirs of the latter in the 18th or 19th centuries to augment their family armoury. A number of important Italian pieces were available during this time, including further related examples from the Capodilista Armoury, Naples.12 Many significant acquisitions were made by the great European ancestral armouries in the 18th and 19th centuries following the Gothic revival and the rebirth of armour collecting.

The great majority of decorated homogeneous armours surviving today have found permanent homes in the major ancestral and Institutional collections of Europe and the United States. No related examples with such distinguished provenances have been offered at auction in the last forty years.

Stand not included.

Sotheby’s gratefully acknowledges Thomas Del Mar for the preparation of this catalogue entry.  

FOOTNOTES

Vzácnĕ Zbranĕ a Zbroj, ze Sbírek Vojenského Muzea v Praze, Prague 1986, p. 24, no. 5. 

G. F. Laking, A Catalogue of the Armour and Arms in the Armoury of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem now in Valetta, Malta, London, 1903, pp. 38-41, nos. 416-419

3 S. Spiteri, Armoury of the Knights: A Study of the Palace Armoury, its collection, and the Military Storehouses of the Hospitaller Knights of the Order of St John, Valletta, 2003, pp. 279-280.

4 L. G. Boccia & E. T. Coelho, L’Arte dell’Armatura in Italia, Milan, 1967, p. 481, nos. 426-427.

C. R. Beard, The Barberini and some Allied Armours, London, 1924.

A. V. B. Norman, Wallace Collection Supplement, London 1986, pp. 36-7, no. A63.

7 C. Blair, European Armour, London,  1958, pp. 143-146.

I. Eaves, Two Early Examples of Armour of Proof in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’ in the Armourers Art, Essays in Honor of Stuart Pyhrr, New York, 2014, pp. 33-42.

9 D. Breiding 2002, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/make/hd_make.htm

10 C. Blair, European Armour, London, 1958, pp. 173-175

11 Personal communication with Ian Eaves, May 2017

12 C. Blair, "A Cuirassier Armour in the Scott Collection and other pieces from the Capodolista Armoury", in Scottish Art Review, Special Number based on the R. L. Scott Collection, vol. Xii, no. 2, 1969, pp. 22-33.

Treasures

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London