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Maximilian style suit of armor – with a grotesque helmet

German master armorer

Germany - XVI century

Material: Forged iron

Size: cm 170 high

review by gherardo turchi

Rare Maximilian style suit of armor in forged iron, bearing a grotesque helmet, manufactured in one of those flourishing workshops of master armorers active in Germany during the sixteenth century.

We use the term “Massimiliana”, or “Massimilianea“, to mean the steel plate armor of the Renaissance heavy cavalry. Heir to the Gothic armor, a late medieval variant of plate armor, it was at the time a defense and an elegant mechanical “second skin” for the gentlemen wearing it. In Germany, its name was “Riefelharnisch”, literally translatable as grooved armor.

The name “Massimiliana” usually dates back to Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg, whose Gothic armor, made by the master armorer Lorenz Helmschmied of Nuremberg, would have formed the archetype for the subsequent development of gentlemen’s armor in the Renaissance period.

A great reformer of Germanic warfare, Maximilian had learned how to appreciate the effectiveness of the Gothic steel armor, typical of the Imperial cavalry; having also fought as an infantryman, alongside the lansquenets he set up, he was then aware of the reborn importance of heavy infantry forces as a crucial element to the success of the pitched battles.

Maximilian I is believed to be the inventor of the new line of armors “more germanorum” which, for a few decades, managed to dispute the successful European “Italic” plate armors.


These armors were specifically useful in combat on foot and not only on horseback, lightened both through particular technical devices and after eliminating some excessive components, such as large spirals on the elbow pieces or the thigh pieces. They were anyway suited to those principles of aesthetic taste, encoded by the gothic armor, which had by then laid the foundation for the armor dichotomy as a “second skin for the gentleman”.

The production campaign for these special armors was entrusted by the Emperor to the reliable armorer Seusenhoffer, known, it seems, for his ability to guarantee the manufacture of a special particularly robust steel. Seusenhoffer was put in charge of the imperial armors factory that opened in Innsbruck in 1504. Maximilian was a great promoter of the joust, so he earned the nickname of “last knight”, and amassed a considerable collection of jousting armors, differing thanks to the continuous evolution and experimentation in different models, carried out at the Habsburg court.

Likewise, his typically late Gothic taste for the bizarre and the monstrous led him to order armors being real “grotesque” works of art, such as the panoply given to Henry VIII of England in 1514, made by the armorer Konrad Seusenhoffer in Innsbruck. It had a sallet whose visor was a mask of the grinning Maximilian himself, with a big pair of glasses on his great hooked nose, and from whose cap some curved brass goat horns were coming out.

This armor belongs to the German production of the sixteenth century. This work has typical bear -paw sabatons, as well as kneepieces with butterfly-like wings, made precisely for the Maximilian armor of the mid-sixteenth century. It has a decoration consisting of a dense gleaning arranged longitudinally over the whole surface and made up of a rounded German helmet with a slight crest and a grotesque sallet.

The helmet itself looks like one of the most important parts of this armor, as there are few examples of grotesque helmets, to date, that reached us in an excellent state of conservation such as the one in question. The production of armors with grotesque helmets was extremely limited as only members of the German royal family could access these works.

To protect the upper limbs, this defensive suit has shaped shoulder-plates with wings, hooked in the upper part to the throat and the lower part to the brassards which, divided into two separate parts inserted onto a closed couter, end in mittened gauntlets – or else sliding transverse thin layers on all fingers.

The breast protection is given by a single plate worked with edges; the backplate is made up as well of a single ribbed plate ending in a waist blade, fixed to the chest with a modern belt. Further down under the flap, composed of several blades, it guarantees the protection of the groin. The lower limbs are protected by the greaves, exclusive to horse and tournament armors, made up of four parts: the tassette plates wrapping around the thighs, the knee cop characterized by a wide butterfly wing, the closed greaves, and the bear-paw sabatons, all connected by joints, rivets and leather straps.

Armors of a similar shape are on display in the largest museums and public collections in the world, such as the Luigi Marzoli public collection in Brescia or the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw.

This work is in excellent condition and represents an important addition to the catalog of the production of German armors of the sixteenth century.

This work comes with a metallographic analysis certifying its authenticity.

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