As the only known work that may be ascribed with reasonable certainty to Gian Giacomo Negroli (1463–1543), this previously unrecorded helmet is a major addition to the small corpus of works marked or signed by members of the celebrated Negroli family of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Milanese armorers––no more than twenty pieces in total––of which key examples are in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection. The father of Filippo Negroli (ca. 1510–1579), one of the greatest armorers of Renaissance Europe, and of Francesco Negroli (ca. 1522–1600), a consummate damascener, Gian Giacomo was an eminent armorer in his own right. Active in Milan around the turn of the sixteenth century, he was one of the most successful members of the Negroli family, and it was in his workshop that Filippo and his brothers long worked and presumably acquired many of the skills that distinguish their works. Until now, none of Gian Giacomo’s works had been identified and all that was known about him was thus exclusively derived from archival evidence. This helmet, which is unparalleled in design and superbly crafted, offers new insights into his abilities and accomplishments.As a precursor to the spectacular embossed armors made by Filippo and Giovan Paolo Negroli (ca. 1513–1569), Gian Giacomo’s son and nephew, respectively, and their brothers, for powerful Italian and foreign patrons, including the Emperor Charles V of Austria (1500–1558) and the Dauphin Henry II of France (1519–1559), the helmet under consideration occupies a unique place in the oeuvre of the Negrolis. Until its acquisition, and in the absence of known precedents, it had seemed that Filippo’s and Giovan Paolo’s embossed armors had no immediate forerunners. This helmet, which exhibits both the boldness of design and virtuosity of execution that characterize their works, strongly suggests that the art of embossing armor in Milan began a generation earlier, with the work of Gian Giacomo. Made at least a decade before Filippo’s first known work––a burgonet (helmet) that he made in 1532 for Francesco Maria della Rovere (1490–1538), duke of Urbino––this helmet now ranks as the earliest identified embossed work by any of the Negroli armorers. It is the hitherto missing precedent for the ambitious and highly regarded embossed armors made by Filippo and Giovan Paolo Negroli, and as such a point of departure in the historical development of a style of luxury armor that would bring great fame to Milan and the Negrolis in particular.This helmet is the first work by the Negrolis to incorporate into an entirely functional and serviceable helmet the fantasy for which they earned great fame and are perhaps best remembered today––in this instance seashells embossed in relief on the bowl and visor. While early sixteenth-century Italian armor was sometimes decorated with embossed ribs or seashells on the rear of the helmet’s bowl, the couters (elbow defenses), and poleyns (knee defenses), the seashell embossed on the visor of Gian Giacomo’s helmet is unprecedented, and an unmistakable manifestation of the master’s creativity and audacity.It is also a rare example of Italian armor made in the German style (alla tedesca), presumably for export north of the Alps or for an Italian client with northern tastes. Unlike the standard type of Italian cavalry helmet, which is constructed with cheekpieces hinged to the lower edge of the bowl, it has a visor and a bevor designed to rotate on common pivots at the sides of the bowl, in the manner of most German examples of the period. In this, it may be compared to a backplate decorated with flutes in the German fashion, which bears the marks of Francesco Negroli, in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection (acc. no. 2014.154).
Gian Giacomo Negroli (Italian, Milan 1463–1543)
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.