Right Poleyn (Knee Defense) from an Armor of Claude Gouffier (1501–1570)
This is the only known fragment from what once must have been a magnificent French parade armor. The knee (or poleyn) consists of a main plate covering the kneecap with a heart-shaped wing on the outer side, with a portion of the lame above and a deep downward-overlapping lame below. This last has a turned and boldly roped lower edge, suggesting that it was the terminal lame of a long articulated tasset that extended from the waist to the knee, a type with which no lower leg defenses were worn. Armor so constructed followed Italian prototypes and was typically worn by the light cavalry. Its embossed and gilt decoration, consisting of dense foliate scrollwork and a grotesque mask with ram's horns (fig. 2) at the front of the main plate, recalls the ornamental motifs and workmanship of the Museum's armor of Henry II of France (39.121), which was probably made in a Parisian atelier about 1555. Etched on the plate below the knee is the gilt monogram formed of the Greek letters chi (Χ) and phi (Φ) that identifies it as having belonged to the distinguished courtier, soldier, and patron of the arts Claude Gouffier (1510–1570), grand écuyer (master of the horse) of France. The same monogram, which incorporates the initials of Claude and his second wife, Françoise de Brosse, is found everywhere in the decoration of Gouffier's château of Oiron (Deux-Sèvres) and on the numerous bookbindings and manuscript illuminations commissioned by this ardent bibliophile. It recurs on another piece of armor, a richly etched and gilt French close helmet of similar date, which by happy coincidence is also in the Metropolitan's collection (14.25-596).
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.