A Half-Armour of Blued Steel, da Piede, Etched, Engraved and Gilt, c. 1580-1600

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Item ref: 3977

  • Northern Italy, Brescia or Milan
  • Steel, gold, leather, textile
  • 87.5 cm / 34.3 in x 72 cm / 28.3 in (on mount)


Private collection, USA

The half-length configuration of this armour was best suited to foot combat in late 16th century warfare. The new widespread use of military firearms now made agility in the field a defensive requirement, rendering cumbersome leg defences redundant. Italian decorated armours such as this one are frequently identified with the elite small bodies of troops which formed the bodyguard of politically significant noblemen and senior clergy.

The open-faced helmet, properly described in this instance a ‘morione aguzzo’ or pointed morion, was the preferred head defence for field combat by the close of the 16th century. The present example is notably elegant, and richly ornamented with etched and gilt linear bands of warrior figures and trophies-of-war against a ground of scrollwork and mythical grotesques.

The body of the armour is decorated in the more open incised designs which emerged in north Italian armour after about 1560, in parallel with armour decorated with the more often observed bands of etching. Armour decorated with incised flowing symmetrical patterns of foliage and plain broad gilt bands, such as we see here, was also the style worn by the Vatican Papal Guard in the latter decades of the 16th century.

A particularly distinctive feature of the present armour is the Christian iconography incised and gilt over each of the lower-cannons of the arm defences. This would suggest probable wear by a member of a guard, or armed retainer, in the service of a monastic or otherwise religious body.

The design is contained by a gilt framework and centres on a medieval Christian Tau cross (so called because of its resemblance to the Greek letter tau). About the cross are the celestial motifs sometimes present in the renaissance iconography of the Crucifixion. The letters ‘I O H’ are incised above, which may be interpreted as the abbreviated Latin name ‘JOHANNES’ (John), very likely a reference to St. John The Evangelist. A plumed helmet is placed over the top, in the manner of a crest.