Breastplate with Tassets
Originally this armor would have included a matching helmet, arm defenses, and gauntlets. Although finely decorated, it was designed for practical use and probably belonged to a courtier serving in the armies of the Habsburg Empire. Its inventive and lively designs, particularly the winged cherub heads on the knees, embody the fruitful cooperation between armorers and etchers at the time. Early sixteenth-century armor with large-scale figural ornament is so rare that nothing closely comparable to the present example has appeared on the art market since the 1920s. Although unsigned, this armor falls closely within the circle of Kolman and Desiderius Helmschmid and Matthias Frauenpreiss, leading Augsburg armorers who worked for the imperial court, and the notable etchers associated with them, such as Daniel Hopfer.The armor comprises a globose breastplate with medial ridge and turned and roped borders at neck and outer edges of the movable gussets; pivoted waist plate with single skirt lame attached. On the skirt lame there are two turning pins to attach the fauld, consisting of three lames, and upper tassets, consisting of five lames. On the lowest lame of each upper tasset there are two turning pins to attach the lower tassets, consisting of seven lames. The upper edges of the skirt, fauld, and tasset lames are cusped. The arch at the center of the lowest fauld lame is turned and roped, as are the bottom edges of the knee lames. At the top of each gusset there is a double buckle for a shoulder strap. There are two holes for a lance rest on the proper right side of the breastplate and a pair of lacing holes at the center top of the breastplate just below the roped border. The center of each knee lame features a large winged cherub head represented in low relief with complex etched detailing in the face and feathers. A leaf motif repeats across the top of the breastplate, along the gussets, and across the bottom edge of the knee lames above the roped border. This motif consists of a sunken recurved band decorated with etched circles, forming the midrib of the leaf, surrounded by cusped and curly lobes represented in etching with a dotted ground. The outer edges of each skirt, fauld, and tasset lame have a three-part border formed by a plain sunken band, a repeating raised semicircle filled with an etched leaf pattern, and an incised roping pattern.
The full suit of armor is a feature of the very end of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance period. Plate armor is a type of personal body armor made from iron or steel plates. By about 1420, complete suits of plate armor had been developed in Europe. It commonly seen in the Western European armies especially during the Hundred Years War, the Wars of the Roses or the Italian Wars. European leaders in armoring techniques were northern Italians, Milan, and southern Germans. A full suit of plate armour would have consisted of a helmet, a gorget (or bevor), spaulders, pauldrons with guardbraces to cover the armpits as was seen in French armour, or besagews (also known as rondels) which were mostly used in Gothic Armour, rerebraces, couters, vambraces, gauntlets, a cuirass (back and breastplate) with a fauld, tassets and a culet, a mail skirt, cuisses, poleyns, greaves, and sabatons. The very fullest sets, known as garnitures, more often made for jousting than war, included pieces of exchange, alternate pieces suiting different purposes, so that the suit could be configured for a range of different uses, for example fighting on foot or on a horse. The armor was articulated and covered a man's entire body completely from neck to toe. Full suits of Gothic plate armor were worn on the battlefields of the Burgundian and Italian Wars. The most heavily armored troops were heavy cavalries, such as the gendarmes and early cuirassiers. The specialized jousting armor associated with the medieval knights developed in the 16th century. Maximilian armor of the early 16th century is a style using heavy fluting and some decorative etching, as opposed to the plainer finish on 15th-century white armor. The shapes include influence from Italian styles. This era also saw the use of closed helms, as opposed to the 15th-century-style sallets and barbutes. During the early 16th century the helmet and neck guard design were reformed to produce the so-called Nürnberg armor, many of them masterpieces of workmanship and design. As firearms became better and more common on the battlefield the utility of full armor gradually declined. After 1650, due to the development of the flintlock musket, which could penetrate armor from a considerable distance, plate armor was reduced to the simple breastplate (cuirass) worn by cuirassiers. The decoration of fine armour greatly increased in the period. Such work required armorers to either collaborate with artists. Daniel Hopfer was an etcher of armour by training, who developed etching as a form of printmaking. Other artists such as Hans Holbein the Younger produced designs for armor. The Milanese armorer Filippo Negroli, from a leading dynasty of armorers, was the most famous modeller of figurative relief decoration on armor.