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Three-crested morion of the guardia Farnese

Bolognese armorsmith

Bologna 16th. century

Material: Embossed iron

Size: 30 x 30 x 20 cm

Review by Gherardo Turchi

This ancient iron morion has three crests and is one of the rarest example of armour in the studio, and was most likely forged in a workshop certified especially for this purpose by the noble families of Northern Italy in the 16th century.

The three-crested morion owes its birth and expansion to Emperor Carlo V and the brilliant master blacksmith Desiderius Helmschied, who forged the armour in which the Emperor was depicted, on horseback after the historic Battle of Muhlberg, by Tiziano Vecellio in 1547. The painting, which today is housed in the Museo del Prado, showed for the first time a new model of armour such as this one. From then on, three-crested morions became a distinctive emblem worn exclusively by the upper-most echelons of noblemen and ruling elites. This type of morion was used by the Farnese, one of Italy’s most important family, who fittingly equipped their Grand-Ducal guards with the accessory from 1544. It is widely believed that Charles V, who reigned Italy from 1530 to 1556, was responsible for the emergence of a new fashion in this regard. After seeing him depicted in the suit, many of the leading families of the day developed a certain predilection for the Emperor’s aesthetic.

To date, only a few examples of such morions are known: a testament to just how few noble families adopted the style and had the helmets made for their personal guards. The reason for this limited production can be deduced not only from the very high cost to make these helmets (made with an actual technique close to embossing), but also from the fact that these armour accessories were real emblems of social caste and that therefore only a few families could afford to adorn their guards’ armours.

Two examples of three-crested morions are housed in the Stibbert Museum in Florence: one of simple German manufacture (which was covered with fabric during the nineteenth century by Stibbert himself in order to show how it was actually worn by the lansquenets); and the other one of Italian production made for the Farnese guard in Northern Italy. Both specimens are from the 16th century but have sensitive and substantial differences that determine the different forging nations. The German one presents a rather simple realisation: the three crests are relatively low and the cheekpieces, which are hinged to the skull, are made by a single slab. There are no decorative elements in other metallic materials, which means that is a typical form of Germanic construction that favoured simplicity and sobriety in the production of the armours for their guards. The morion of Italian production is completely different. The helmet has lost its ear flaps over the centuries and is richly embossed with motifs and emblems of the Farnese family (which is identifiable with the Lily motif). Unlike the morion of Germanic production, here the three crests are well emphasised and wrought with strong creasing; the entire skull is also embellished with decorative elements in gilded metal, a detail that determines the absence of fabric covers which were typically used in France. Another morion with three emphasised crests was seen on the antiquarian market and proves that such decoration was a typical feature of Italian production, and it differed significantly from the German design in substantial stylistic details such as elegance and harmony.

The piece which is housed in the studio is attributed to Italian production in the 16th century. The skull has three well emphasised crests and is wrought with strong creasing. The plate earflaps are representative of Italian production and found in some typical examples of Northern Italy’s morions from the same era which are housed in the Stibbert Museum of Florence; also, these earflaps have specific incisions that associate the morion with the upper-most armours made especially for the guards of the Farnese family. This morion has twelve engraved lilies in groups of six on the central plate of the earflaps. These elements bear witness to the affinity with the Emilian armoury of the Farnese family, and together with the similarity of aesthetic workmanship, this helmet is undoubtedly related to the very restricted group of Italian nobel production of the 16th century. The last element that proves the Italian authorship of this piece is the decorative inserts in gilded metal applied along the entire surface of the morion. These inserts were used to embellish the skull and to make it sumptuous. A characteristic that proves the absence of the above-mentioned outer covering in fabric, but rather the use of the interior leather lining dedicated to the protection of the neck. Traces of leather can still be found inside the skull.

In conclusion, this morion can be included in the catalogue of armours crafted by the master blacksmiths of Northern Italy in the 16th century who were employed by the Farnese Family.

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