Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Jousting Armour

I’ve written previously about some rather fine 17th century English jousting armour at the V&A. To provide contrast, the jousting armour in this post is about a century earlier (1520-40) and German. Although all of the pieces that make up this display are from different sets, bequeathed to and bought by the museum at different times, they are unified in their use of decorative fluting. This technique was particularly popular during the reign of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. As a decorative device, fluting was intended to imitate contemporary pleated doublets, but it also, essentially produces a corrugating effect, strengthening the metal and providing greater protection.

This style of helmet (M.2705-1931), known as an armet, first became popular at the end of the 15th century. The hinged visor reduced much of a nobleman’s vision to reduce the risk of facial injury. This was not seen as a particular impediment as, unlike actual battle armour, the jouster only needed to see in one direction. The gorget (M.62-1953) protected the neck and shoulders. This example has the same fluting as before, but has an added element in that the neck-edge is in the form of a twisted rope or torse. Unfortunately, the way that these items are exhibited, with the armet over the top of the gorget, means that this detail can only be glimpsed from the back. The breastplate (M.197-1951) was made in the Bavarian town of Landshut by Wolf Grossschedel, and bears his mark. The odd-looking, semi-circular piece of metal attached at the right pectoral area is a lance rest, indicating that this was for sports jousting rather than battle. The final piece in this ensemble is the backplate (M.116-1953). Unlike the heavy breastplate that faced the full force of any potential injury, this was a much lighter as it wasn’t a target area. While the fluted decoration is present here again, the absence of the rope-like edging seen on the gorget and breastplate would again suggest that it is the work of a different maker and from a different set.

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