Foot soldier armour

Milan armourer

Milan, mid-late 16th century

Material: Forged engraved iron

Size: 74 cm high

Review by Gherardo Turchi

Stunningly preserved, the refined armour we’re going to describe was produced by one of the most skilful craftsmen living in Milan in the mid-sixteenth century.

As of the thirteenth century, most renowned commanders – as well as all the aristocrats who could afford it – had used to put on armours to stand out from the troops, especially from the soldiers on the front lines. In the mid-sixteenth century such war equipment cost sixteen florins: far too much for soldiers’ budget. They had usually been given four florins since the beginning of the century and, despite the money devaluation due to wars and starvation, they wouldn’t get anything more later.

Between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, a lot of smithies thrived in Milan. Local craftsmen, especially those living on Via degli Spadari, got such a success they were often asked for their products by governments and nobles from all Europe. A huge number of armours, shields, helmets as well as many other war-equipment items was therefore produced.

Over a span of years, a few craftsmen from the Missaglias, Piccininos and Negrolis – some of Milan’s most renowned families – stood out as the most skilled because of their refined products. Strong and richly decorated, their armours quickly became the status symbol most European aristocrats longed for to show their own power off.

In accordance with the papers we’ve lately analysed, we can certainly ascribe the forged-iron armour we’re describing to one of the families previously mentioned.

It’s composed of a breastplate, a backplate and a helmet. All finely etched, they prove the engraver’s huge skills since, still today, etching is widely known to be such a difficult technique to master: the smallest mistake would compel even the most talented craftsman to start over. That’s why the item we’re analysing has been given such an artistic relevance.

The breastplate is richly engraved with floral and coil-shaped decorations: the oak leaf-looking ones, symbol of victory, enhance some cartouches consisting of soldier and mask-shaped elements.

Two winged cupids enrich the thick iron the gorget and the backplate are entirely made of, in addition to the vertical stripe-shaped engravings both are decorated with.

Focusing on the helmet, the oak leaf-looking elements enhance its trophy-shaped decorations, some of the most common patterns used to engrave armourers in the mid-sixteenth century. It’s equipped with some golden metal hooks holding up the leather protective device the inner surface of the helmet was surely provided with.

Similarly, both the breastplate and backplate have some inside hooks. Therefore, since most of the armours today on the market are mainly equipped with some mediocre copies, the rare model we’ve just analysed is certainly worthy of note.

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