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Milanese master armorer

Milan - Last quarter of the XVIth Century

Materiale: Ferro inciso all'acquaforte

Size: Diameter cm 58

review by gherardo turchi

A rare forged iron parade wheel-shaped shield, with etched engravings, manufactured in one of those masters armorers’ flourishing workshops in Northern Italy during the last quarter of the sixteenth century. Over the sixteenth century, the main original dictates regarding wartime taste changed considerably, due to the relevant changes in the military and social environment of the European aristocratic classes. War was no longer a hard consequence of the human mind, from which people’s eyes had to be taken away; it became a tangible reality that all social classes had to be used to; everybody had to be conscious of it, being all territorial conquering conducted, from the fifteenth century on, just in front of reign gates.  Being a warrior was thus a benefit to men’s pride to show in public. At the very beginning of the sixteenth century, European master armorers became aware of this change and started working more and more on defensive decorations outfits, the so-called “parade-made”, those arm suits that were rarely used in battles due to their high cost, but were often worn in public events by aristocrats and military high officers.

The defensive outfit thus became a new and wide field in which engravers, goldsmiths, and embossers could work and refine their art, putting together Hephaestus’ art and the nobler jeweler’s craft. Defensive outfits and armor suits production in Milan aroused a great deal of interest in Europe and was particularly appreciated by the old continent sovereigns due to its wealth of details and the refinement with which those works were being made. The majority of master armorers got together in one street of Milan, still today called Via Degli Spadari, where workshops like those of the Missaglia, Negroli, and Piccinino families set up their long-standing luck. In one of these workshops, presumably, the master armorer who manufactured this work practiced his apprenticeship.

This parade-wheel shield was surely part of a bigger defensive outfit, including the complete armor suit, and its front has forty alternated pointed bands.  Twenty of them are etchings engraved with figures and plant vine branches, and twenty are smooth. The forty bands converge at the shield center in a big engraved flower, from the center of which, almost like a pistil, an iron rhomboid-shaped umbo comes out. A big festoon, engraved with leafy motifs spirals, frames the forty bands with some typical decorative defensive elements of the sixteenth century. This work has a final frame all around it, decorated with flower-shaped gilded brass rivets, usually supporting the leather cover part inside, of which we only have small traces left today. Its central body has eight gilded brass rosettes, supporting the braces still today present on its back.

This work is in a very good conservative condition and is important evidence of the decorative taste and the magnificent art of master armorers in Milan, during the sixteenth century.

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