Lot 8
  • 8


500,000 - 700,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • A rare composite Armour for the Jousts of Peace (or Stechzeug for the Gestech)
  • ferrous metal (iron or steel)
  • the armour: 112cm., 44 1/8 in. overall
the waist-plate struck with several royal Saxon ownership marks 


The Entire Armour
Zeughaus, Berlin, assembled by 1938 (inv. no. AB 14495);
sold by the museum in 1938 through the Lucerne auctioneer Theodore Fischer to Hans von Schulthess (1885-1951), Schloss Au, near Zurich, Switzerland;
by family descent to the von Schulthess heirs

The Helmet
By repute, Otto Graf zu Stolberg-Wernigerode (1837-1896);
Georg Jakob Paul von Decker, Schloss Boberstein, Silesia;
acquired by the Berlin Zeughaus by exchange in 1920 (inv. no. 20.8)

The Arm-Defences & Left Besague
Prince Carl of Prussia (1801-1883);
acquired by the Berlin Zeughaus in 1883 (inv. nos. PC14493 and PC 219d)

The Breastplate
Ernst Kahlert, Berlin;
acquired by the Berlin Zeughaus from the above in 1925 (inv. no. 25.26)

The Backplate & Waist-Lame
aquired by the Berlin Zeughaus from unrecorded sources in 1927 and 1930 respectively (inv. nos. 27.12 and 30.116)


Geneva, Musée Rath, Armes Anciennes des Collections Suisses, 1972


Anon., 'Meisterwerke der Waffenschmiedekunst', Zeitschrift für Historische Waffen- und Kostümkunde, Vol. IX, 1921, p. 30 (helmet only);
J. Lauts, Alte Deutsche Waffen, Burg bei Magdeburg, 1938, fig. 16;
J.G. Mann, Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour, Vol. I, London, 1962, p. 20;
C. Bosson, R. Géroudet, E. Heer, Armes Anciennes des Collections Suisses, exh. cat. Musée Rath, Geneva, 1972, pp. 12 and 114, cat. no. 4;
G. Quaas and A. König, Verluste aus den Sammlungen des Berliner Zeughauses während und nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg, Berlin, 2011, pp. 105, 124, 143 (the Museum has since acknowledged that the armour left its collections legitimately before the war)


Overall the condition of the armour is good, with some wear to the surface consistent with age. There is light patination and pitting to the surface throughout. There are also nicks and dents, consistent with use and wear. The front of the helm and the besague are each marked with numerous pits and gouges resulting from the impact of opponents’ lance-tips. The armour is a composite and, as can be expected, some of its elements have been partially restored and modified. There is a later extension plate attached to the front of the helmet that protrudes about an inch beyond its later-cut, straight lower end. The lower end of the extension plate is pierced with a horizontal line of three large holes to accommodate the screws that secure it to the underlying breastplate. The holes have been filed out, subsequent to manufacture, to a slightly oval form to better align them with the holes of the breastplate. The turn of the right arm-opening of the breastplate has been removed. A crack in that arm-opening has been repaired with an old internal patch. The left shoulder-hasp is restored. The screws that secure the helm to the breastplate are replacements. The upper screw attaching the lance-rest to the breastplate is restored. Although the proximal ends of the hinges that connect the backplate to the breastplate are in each case original, their distal ends are restored. Three of the screws securing the abdominal plate to the lower edge of the breastplate are restored. The screw which attaches the associated waist-plate to the breastplate is also restored. The waist-lame has been adapted to the breastplate by reshaping and cutting its right side, and by elongating the hole that receives the screw for its attachment. The cusps of the tassets have been reduced in height. The tassets have been reduced in length subsequent to manufacture by removing lames from both of their upper ends, from between the second and third lames and the fifth and sixth lames of the left one, and between the first and second and the fourth and fifth lames of the right one. The screw at the right of the backplate is restored. Attached by a horizontal line of three rivets within the lower edge of the backplate is a restored, narrow tail-piece. A lame has been removed between the sixth and seventh lames of the left pauldron. The outer ends of the lowest lame of the couter have been slightly reshaped to better fit the manifer to which it is attached by means of three transversely sliding rivets. The rear rivet has been moved and the slot in which it is accommodated, lengthened. The straps, buckles, and several rivets of the armour have been replaced in its history, which is consistent with use and age. (This condition report is partially based on the report on the armour by Ian Eaves, M.V.O., F.S.A., which is available from Sotheby’s upon request.) The armour is sold with a black painted metal stand. The overall height of the stand with the assembled armour is approx. 186cm., 73in.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This exceptional armour is the only example of its kind known to remain in private hands today. Referred to as a Stechzeug, the armour was made specifically for jousting with blunted or rebated lances in the German fashion; that is without a dividing tilt or barrier separating the contestants. The medieval tournament continues to capture the contemporary imagination, with numerous incarnations of the sport appearing in popular culture, as well as in theatrical re-enactments. The sale of this Stechzeug presents a unique opportunity to acquire such a relic from the late Age of Chivalry.

The armour is composite but authentic, with only minor restorations and modifications. It was made in South Germany around 1495, at the end of the late ‘Gothic’ era when the craft of the armourer reached its highest point. Some at least of its elements can be attributed on stylistic grounds to the hands of Lorenz and Jörg Helmschmied the Younger of Augsburg, arguably the finest armourers of all time, and the preferred armourers of the Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519). The backplate is conceivably by Konrad Poler of Nuremberg, another of the Emperor's armourers.

The Stechzeug was a rare and costly type of armour even in the time of its use. Today it is to be seen in only a relatively small number of collections. The pauldrons, vambraces and cuirass of the present example most closely resemble in their details the important group of such armours preserved as part of the armoury of the Emperor Maximilian I in Vienna, and may very well have originally formed a part of it. Ownership marks on its waist-plate, however, show that that element at least, which was acquired separately by the Berlin Zeughaus, must have spent some time in Saxon royal hands. The armour was assembled in its present form by the Berlin Zeughaus at sometime between 1930 and 1938, but was sold by it in the latter year as a duplicate.

Evolution of the Stechzeug

The medieval tournament, first recorded in France in the latter part of the 11th century, probably began as a means of practising for war but quickly developed into a sport that was enjoyed for its own sake. In its earliest days it was fought with much the same armour and weapons as would have been employed in the contemporary battlefield, and with much the same consequences. So great indeed was the loss of life that many European rulers, supported from 1130 onwards by successive popes, endeavoured to ban it. Nevertheless the number of times that those bans had to be repeated over the next century and a half, suggests that they were somewhat less than completely effective. Some concessions to safety were nevertheless introduced over the years, with the result that by 1316 the tournament had acquired sufficient respectability for the papal ban on it to be lifted (Blair 1958, p. 156). 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:

Zeughaus Berlin
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.