Most important of the concessions to safety was the introduction at some unknown date before about 1200 of the blunted or rebated lance, usually fitted with a crown-shaped or 'coronel' tip. Thereafter, a distinction tended to be made by medieval writers between the jousts à plaisance or ‘jousts of peace’ fought with such rebated lances, and the jousts à outrance or ‘jousts of war’ fought with pointed lances (Blair 1958, p. 156). In Germany these two kinds of joust were respectively known as the Gestech and the Scharfrennen. In the former, the main aim of the contestants was to splinter their lances against one another, whereas in the latter, it was to unhorse one another (Blair 1958, pp. 160-3).
A further concession to safety, introduced at some time before 1429, was the erection of a tilt or dividing-barrier down the centre of the lists to prevent contestants from accidentally or deliberately colliding with one another. Tilting, as such jousting over the barrier eventually came to be known, quickly became popular in most parts of Europe except Germany, where it was little practiced before the 16th century (Blair 1958, pp. 158-9).
There it was referred to as the Welschgestech über die Planke (the foreign joust over the tilt) to distinguish it from the native Allgemeine Deutsche Gestech (the common German joust) fought in the traditional way, without a dividing barrier between the contestants.
The earliest reference to specialised forms of tournament armour dates from 1278. From the early 14th century such references become increasingly numerous (Blair 1958, pp. 156-9; Gravett 1993, pp. 62-88). One of the earliest pieces of armour specifically developed for use in the jousts was the so-called ‘frog-mouthed’ helm, already seen in manuscript illustrations of about 1338-44 (Gravett 1993, pp. 66-8). The lower edge of its vision-slit projected forward as a prominent ‘lip’. Proper vision could only be obtained when the wearer leant forward very slightly. On straightening up at the moment of impact with his opponent, however, the ‘lip’ completely protected his eyes from the splinters of the latter's lance, which were cause of some of the worst injuries in these contests. The ‘frog-mouthed’ helm was firmly secured to the cuirass by means of hasps or ‘charnels’ at its front and rear (Blair 1958, pp. 157-8).
It achieved its most elegant form in German examples made for use in the Gestech in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. By then, tournaments had developed into lavish state-sponsored spectacles in which only the wealthiest noblemen could afford to participate. The armours used in them were accordingly commissioned from the finest armourers of the time.
Special armour for the Gestech is mentioned as early as 1436 in an inventory of armour belonging to the Archduke Friedrich of Tyrol (later Emperor Friedrich III), although its exact form is unrecorded (Blair 1958, p. 160). Judging from what we know of later examples, it may well have been similar to the type of armour for the jousts described in detail in an anonymous French manuscript of 1446. This included a helm, a cuirass with a lance-rest, pauldrons, a right besague, a poldermitten, a manifer, and a small square shield of wood attached by a cord to the left of the cuirass. The author of the manuscript mentions that in France legharness were usually worn in jousting; suggesting that that was not necessarily the case elsewhere (Blair 1958, pp. 159-60).
Legharness were certainly not worn in the common German Gestech. That course was fought in an open field without a dividing tilt or barrier between the contestants. From about 1480, therefore, protection against injury in the event of a collision was afforded not only to the horse's chest but also to the rider's legs by a thickly padded ‘bumper’ or Stechsack that was hung around the horse's neck (Blair 1958, p. 161, Thomas & Gamber 1976, p. 151). A unique example of such a defence is preserved in the Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer, Vienna, as part of the armoury of the Archduke (later Emperor) Maximilian I, the self-styled ‘last of the Knights’.
From an early period in his life, Maximilian developed a passion for the tournament in all its forms. It is doubtful whether any ruler ever surpassed him either in the number or the variety of tournament armours that he commissioned both for his own use and for that of his guests. The armour under discussion provides a good impression of the type of Stechzeug used at his court. As will be seen, there is every likelihood that some at least of its elements derive from the armoury of the Emperor. A wealth of evidence is preserved regarding the character of the Stechzeuge used in his lifetime, both in the form of contemporary illustrations and of extant examples.
Excellent drawings of the Stechzeug are to be found in the Waldburg-Wolfeggsches Hausbuch of about 1475-80 and the Thunsche Skizzenbuch, recording the output of the Helmschmied family of armourers of Augsburg from the late 15th to the mid-16th centuries (Thomas 1957, figs 54, 64-5 & 93). Providing evidence of the form of this kind of armour in the early 16th century are the fine woodcuts of the Freydal of 1512-15, the Triumph of 1512-19 and the Theurdank of 1517, all prepared to the Emperor's personal instructions (Thomas 1957, pp. 68-9, figs 94-5).
Making up the largest group of extant Stechzeuge are the fifteen more or less complete examples preserved in the Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer, Vienna (Thomas & Gamber 1954, pp.54-6 & 31, pls 5-9; Thomas 1956, figs 31-6, 39, 41&43-5; Thomas 1957, figs 47, 49-50 & 58; Norman 1964, fig. 49; and Thomas & Gamber 1976, pp. 137-48, pls 68-73). Three of them, bearing the marks of various Innsbruck makers, are thought to have been made, in part at least, for the marriage of the Archduke Sigmund of Tyrol to Katharina von Sachsen in 1484. Of the ten deriving from the personal armoury of the Emperor Maximilian I, five bearing the marks of the brothers Lorenz and Jörg Helmschmied of Augsburg, are thought to have been made for the Emperor's marriage to Bianca Maria Sforza of Milan in 1494. Another three, dating from a similar or slightly later period, bear the mark of Konrad Poler of Nuremberg. As a result of looting by Napoleonic troops in 1805 and 1809, four further Stechzeuge from the imperial collections in Vienna are now to be seen in the Musée de l'Armée, Paris.
No less than seven Stechzeuge, made for use in the Gesellenstechen or ‘bachelor jousts’ held in Nuremberg from 1446 to 1561, are to be seen in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg (Laking 1920, fig. 466; Blair 1958, fig. 56; Reitzenstein 1964, fig. 24; and Karcheski 1993, pp. 181287, figs 7-8 & 11-12). They were made partly in the late 1490s, possibly by Conrad Poler of Nuremberg, and partly in the 1530s by Valentin Siebenburger of the same city.
Several further more or less complete Stechzeuge are recorded in public collections throughout Europe and in the US. Significantly, however, the present Stechzeug is the only authentic example of its kind now known to remain in private hands.
Stylistic and Technical Appraisal
All of the surviving Stechzeuge listed above are to a greater or lesser extent composite. This is perhaps inevitable. The staging of tournaments in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance was a costly extravagance affordable only by the wealthiest of rulers. Part of the cost lay in the purchase of the highly specialised armours required for use not only in the events themselves, but in the practices leading up to them. Even if the individual contestants could have afforded to buy such armours for themselves, they would not always have been able to do so in time for the relevant entertainments. Thus the rulers who chose to regularly stage lavish tournaments would have felt obliged in most cases to provide a store of suitable armours from which the participants could if necessary draw.
Since they were issued to different people over the years, their components would very easily have become muddled, and may in some cases have had to be replaced as they suffered loss or damage. Several of Maximilian's Stechzeuge in Vienna show signs of working-life alterations. One example, by Jörg Helmschmied the Younger, is now equipped with a helm that is secured directly to the cuirass by three screw at its lower edge. However, holes lower down the centre of the breastplate show that the armour was originally equipped with a different kind of helm that was secured to the breastplate by means of a hinged hasp in the earlier fashion (Thomas 1956, fig. 39). A further Stechzeug in the imperial collections at Vienna, made by Matthes Deutsch of Landshut for Duke Johann of Saxony, possibly for use by him when he attended as a guest the jousts held by the Emperor Maximilian at Innsbruck in 1497, has been augmented, apparently in an early period, by pieces bearing the mark of Konrad Poler of Nuremberg (Thomas and Gamber 1976, pp. 142-3).
Beyond the period of their working life, any Stechzeuge that were not immediately cast out to create space for newer, more essential equipment, tended through neglect, indifference and looting to suffer further muddling and depletions. It is therefore inevitable, as observed above, that any such armours surviving today are to some degree or another likely to be composite. This is certainly true of the armour under discussion. Nevertheless, the fact that its elements do not match one another perfectly and have in certain cases had to be slightly altered to fit one another encourages the view that they are authentic. Had any of those elements been restored, then it would have been natural for their restorer to have ensured that they fit and matched the other elements perfectly.
The helm shows evidence of having been modified twice over. Already in its working-life, it appears, its lower edge had been trimmed and overlain with an extension-plate pierced with three new holes to allow it to be fastened to a cuirass other than that for which it was originally made. An almost identical helm, fitted with the same kind of extension plate and presumably originally belonging to the same series as it, is preserved in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (Seelig 2005, p. 422). The helm of the armour under discussion was modified for a second time by elongating slightly the holes for its attachment and reshaping it a little over the rear of each shoulder to better fit the cuirass with which it is at present mounted.
Adjustments have also been made to the right pauldron, the left couter, the waist-lame, and the fauld and tassets.
Of particular interest is the fact that the fauld and tassets closely resemble those of a Rennzeug in the Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer, Vienna, probably made by Lorenz or Jörg Helmschmied of Augsburg for the Emperor Maximilian I's wedding in 1494 (Thomas 1957, fig. 60; and Thomas & Gamber 1976, p. 164, pl. 76). It is perhaps of significance in this context that all of the Emperor's Stechzeuge now surviving in Vienna have had their waist-plates, faulds and tassets removed. If the armour under discussion originally formed part of that series, which seems possible, then it too may have lacked those elements. It is conceivable in those circumstances that it would have been completed at some time by fitting it with the shortened fauld and tassets of a Rennzeug.
Among other elements of the armour under discussion that suggest a relationship between it and the Emperor's series of Stechzeuge in Vienna, is the left vambrace of the former. Its upper cannon is decorated with ‘wolf’s tooth’ ornament of the same kind as that found on two of the Emperor's wedding Stechzeuge respectively made by Lorenz and Jörg Helmschmied (Thomas 1956, figs 32-3). In addition, the fretting at the lower edge of its couter can be compared with that of a further two Stechzeuge of the series by Jörg (Thomas 1956, figs 36 & 41). The scalloping of the lower edge of the right vambrace can be compared with that found on three of the Stechzeuge by Lorenz and Jörg (Thomas 1956, figs 32, 36 & 41). The fluted decoration of the backplate and vambraces, moreover, can be compared at various points with that not only of their Stechzeuge but also of the similar ones in the imperial armoury mentioned above as bearing the mark attributed to Konrad Poler of Nuremberg. The resemblance to the latter's work is particularly great in regard to the backplate of the armour under discussion, as also its breastplate and lance-rest (Thomas 1956, figs 44-5). Poler is recorded as having worked for the Emperor Maximilian between 1492 and 1500. Of the three Stechzeuge by him now remaining in Vienna, two resemble the Helmschmied wedding armours of 1494 sufficiently closely in style as to suggest that they were made in the same period as them.
The very similar armour under discussion can therefore be dated with some confidence to about 1495: the end of the late ‘Gothic’ era when the craft of the armourer is generally acknowledged to have reached its highest point.
From the evidence presented above, it is possible that some elements of the armour in question might originally have formed a part of the personal armoury of the Emperor Maximilian I. Certainly no armoury of its time can have been better equipped with Stechzeuge. Those now surviving from it not only form the principal source of information for the character of such armours in the late 15th century but provide closer stylistic analogies for the example under discussion than any other group of its kind. From those analogies, it seems likely that that armour represents in part at least the work of the distinguished imperial armourers Lorenz and Jörg Helmschmied of Augsburg (fauld and tassets, vambraces), and possibly also Konrad Poler of Nuremberg (backplate, breastplate and lance-rest).
The several ownership marks struck on the waist-plate of the armour show that particular element to have been preserved for a while in a Saxon royal arsenal or armoury. The fact that the ownership marks are of several forms and occur not only side by side with one another but, in one case, partially superimposed one upon another, would seem to suggest that the armour on which they occur spent more than a few years in Saxon hands.
As is to be expected, the straps, buckles and many of the rivets of the armour under discussion have been replaced over the years. Otherwise, however, aside from the few restorations, modifications and repairs detailed in the descriptions above, it can be judged as entirely authentic. Its several elements all compare favourably in style, construction and workmanship with those of the various other examples of its kind discussed above.
The armour was assembled in its present form in the Berlin Zeughaus — the Prussian state arsenal become in 1875 its military history museum — at some time between 1930 and 1938. In the latter year, however, the Museum sold it through the Berlin antique dealer Ernst Kahlert and the Lucern auctioneer Theodore Fischer to the Swiss brewery magnate Hans von Schulthess (1885-1951) of Schloss Au, near Zurich.
The helmet (Inv. No. 20.8) is stated to have entered the Museum by exchange from Schloss Boberstein near Hirschberg, Silesia, in 1920. The collection at Boberstein was formed by the printing magnate Georg Jacob Paul von Decker who, although he owned the castle as early as 1880, is unlikely to have furnished it with armour until after he had completed its rebuilding in 1894. The helmet was illustrated as a part of the collections of the Zeughaus in the Zeitschrift für Historische Waffenkunde in 1921, the year after its acquisition (Anon. 1921, pl. I, following p. 30).
The arm-defences of the armour (Inv. No. PC 14493), presumably including its pauldrons as well as its vambraces, entered the Zeughaus as part of the collection of Prince Carl (1801-83), third son of King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia. He enjoyed a distinguished military career and assembled at his palace in the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin a variety of art treasures, including a major collection of arms and armour, the greater part of which passed on his death into to the Berlin Zeughaus.
The left besague (Inv. No. PC 219d) of the armour under discussion also came from the collection of Prince Carl as part of a Stechzeug that was transferred from the Zeughaus to the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw shortly after the Second World War.
The breastplate (Inv. No. 25.26) was purchased from Ernst Kahlert of Berlin, supplier of antiques to the Emperor, in 1925.
The backplate (Inv. No. 27.12) and waist-lame (Inv. No. 30.116) were acquired from unrecorded sources in 1927 and 1930 respectively.
Two photographs, probably dating from the early 1930s, show the armour mounted complete in one of the Museum's display-cabinets. It was illustrated in a book on old German arms published by Jan Louts in 1938 (Louts 1938, p. 41, fig.16; cited by Quasar & Koenig 2011, p. 124)
A year later, it passed, as noted above, into the hands of the Swiss collector Hans von Schulthess. A typed catalogue-entry for the armour prepared for him by Eduard A. Gessler of the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum, Zurich, recorded its provenance as follows:
Sammlung von Decker, Schloss Boberstein, Fürst Stollberg-Werningerode
Schlesisches Museum, Breslau.
The Fürst Stolberg-Wernigerode provenance cited by Gessler most likely relates, by a process of elimination, to the armour's helmet. The collection of Prince Otto zu Stolberg-Wernigerode (1837-96), Vice-Chancellor of Germany, was presumably kept by him at Schloss Wernigerode, his family seat in the northern foothills of the Hartz mountains, then forming a part of the governorate of Magdeburg. It is possible that Gessler had particular knowledge of a link between the collections of the Prince zu Stolberg Wernigerode who died in 1896 and Georg Jacob Paul von Decker who most likely began assembling his collection at Schloss Boberstein shortly after he had completed re-building the latter in 1894.
Blair, C., 1958, European Armour, London; Gravett, C., 1993, "Early Tournament Armour", Livrustkammaren, pp. 62-88; Karcheski, W. J, 1993, "The Nuremburg Stechzeuge Armours", Journal of the Arms and Armour Society, Vol. XIV, No. 4, September, pp. 181-217; Laking, G. F., 1920, A Record of European Armour and Arms, Vol. I, London, Vol. II, London; Mann, J. G., 1962, Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour, Vol. I, London; Norman, V., 1964, Arms and Armour, London; Reitzenstein, A. von, 1964, Der Waffenschmied, Munich; Reverseau, J.-P., 1982, Musée de l'Armée Paris: Les Armes et La Vie, Paris; Seelig, L., 2005, "Waffen" in R. Eikelmann & I. Bauer (eds), Das Bayerische Nationalmuseum 1855-2005 — 150 Jahre Sammeln, Forschen, Austellen, Munich; Thomas, B., 1956, "Jörg Helmschmied d. J. — Plattner Maximilians I. In Augsburg und Wien", Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, Vol. 52, pp. 33-50; Thomas, B., 1957, "Der Turnierharnisch zur Zeit König Maximilians I. und das Thunsche Skizzenbuch", Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, Vol. 53, pp. 33-70; Thomas, B., & Gamber, O., 1954, Die Innsbrucker Plattnerkunst, Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck; Thomas, B., & Gamber, O., 1976, Katalog der Leibrüstkammer, Vol. I, Vienna
Sotheby's is grateful to Ian Eaves, M.V.O., F.S.A, for allowing us to print this edited version of his study on the armour. A copy of the full text is available from Sotheby's upon request.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale