Germany, 16th century
Material: Forged iron
Size: 178 cm high
Review by Gherardo Turchi
Greatly preserved, the stunning armour we’re going to describe is totally made of forged iron and has been produced by one of the most skilful German blacksmiths of the sixteenth century.
It’s mainly known as Massimilianea, since it closely recalls Maximilian I of Habsburg’s own gothic style armour. Created by Lorenz Helmschmied, Nuremberg’s most renowned armourer at that time, it’s composed of several iron plates joined together, just as those most Renaissance German knights used to put on.
The one we’re analysing is however lighter as well as much more refined, structurally speaking. It’s thought to be more a parade armour than an item of war equipment. That’s why some historians claim it recalls Maximilian II of Habsburg’s defensive clothing, which was produced in accordance with the Italian blacksmiths’ forging techniques. Its alternative name, Riefelharnisch meaning “grooved armour”, may prove that.
Enthralled by the effective structural strength of German imperial knights’ armours, Maximilian I (1459 – 1519) committed most of life to improving the national ars belli. After fighting for the Lansquenets, the mercenary troops he had created, he gradually became aware of the infantry increasing importance on battlefields.
That’s why he asked his trustworthy smiths, such as Lorenz Helmschmied, to improve the German armour production. Even if for a few decades only, he could then prevent the Italian war equipment from catching on across his empire.
Although removing some elements from the couters and cuisses, the German smiths were able to stick with the main standards of Gothic style craftsmanship. The resulting armours were then lighter than the earlier ones but rather strong, allowing users to effectively protect themselves.
Maximilian I’s success in getting German armours improved would however be completed in the 1620’s, when they widely spread all over Europe. His achievement certainly resulted in the rarest example we’re analysing, just as its bear foot-shaped sabatons, butterfly wing-looking poleyns and helmet can prove.
Finely decorated all along its height, the thick breastplate is joined with the richly moulded gardbraces, which are connected with the pauldron on the top and the rerebraces at the bottom.
The lower part of the breastplate is enhanced with some sunburst grooves resulting in the fauld, while its right upper portion is provided with a lance-rest. The backplate is composed of a single iron element joined with the culet by a thick belt, which gets both the parts extremely steady.
The bevor of the pauldron and the visor of the helmet, whose sallet is reinforced by a thick comb, protect the user’s throat and face respectively. The frontal crack of the visor, however, allows him a good line of sight.
Each arm is covered, from top to bottom, with a rerebrace, a couter and a vambrace, whose lower section reaches a gauntlet. Made of thick forged iron, it’s composed of two parts. The lower results in five little plates aimed to protect the user’s fingers.
The upper and mid-lower portions of the thighs are protected by the tassets and cuisses respectively. Joined to the latter by two refined butterfly wing-shaped poleyns, the greaves cover the legs and are connected with the sabatons thanks to some little leather stripes.
Besides the rare example we’ve just analysed, you can look at some similar armours at Warsaw’s Polish Army Museum or Brescia’s Luigi Marzoli collection.