A Helmet in the Turkish Fashion for Wear by the Knightly Hussars of the Habsburg Kingdom of Hungary, c. 1555-60

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Item ref: 4174

  • Southern Germany, almost certainly Nuremberg
  • Steel, gold. Missing cheek-pieces and brow.
  • 25 cm x 21 cm (diameter)


Private Collection, United Kingdom

The Ottoman conquest of Belgrade in 1521 opened the Hungarian southern frontier, to be followed by Hungarian annihilation at the battle of Mohács in 1526 and the Ottoman occupation of Buda in 1541. These defeats and the consequent division of Hungary were tempered to a limited degree by isolated victories for the Habsburg empire, but the struggles with the Turks persisted throughout the century. Conceived perhaps for propaganda purposes, against this background there grew among the Hungarian nobility under Habsburg hegemony an inverted regard for the Turkish mounted warrior and his decorated armour.

A new form of tournament, the ‘Hungarian Tournaments’ (‘Huszarischen Turnieren’) became fashionable at the Habsburg courts in Prague and Vienna, the first being held in 1557. In these contests exotic neo-Ottoman and traditional Hungarian costume, armour and weapons were used, with Habsburg noblemen dressing up as Turks or ‘Moors’. Examples of this sumptuous dress and armament are preserved in the Kunsthistorisches museum.In this vein of Ottoman-inspired pageantry, the occasion of the coronation in 1563 of the Emperor Ferdinand I’s son, Archduke Maximillian, as King of Hungary, provided a natural opportunity for lavish festivities to serve the Habsburg political agenda.

In the formal welcome given to Maximilian at Pozsonyaround two-thousand three-hundred Hungarian knightsattended; equipped with etched fluted helmets commissioned from Nuremberg and Augsburg armourers, their exotic hussar uniforms and armour were established symbols of Habsburg power and military might.

It is most probable that the present zischägge, together with those other surviving examples with which it compares closely, all formed a part of the Hungarian knightly dresswithin this immediate period, perhaps even on the occasion of Maximilian’s coronation.

An example almost certainly from the same series as the present helmet and etched in a closely comparable manner is in the former imperial collection in Vienna (A 1430). Another, again very closely related is in the Nemzeti Museum, Budapest.

Further examples, very similar also, are now in The Wallace Collection, London (A 104), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (04.3.216) and in Wawel Castle, Cracow; this last example dated 1561 and removed from the historic princely Radziwill armoury at Niesweiz, in former Poland.

The present zischägge is characteristically conical, formed in one piece drawn up to an elegant slender point, with a bud-like finial, and decorated with a three-stage arrangement of differing etched patterns after the ‘Moresque’ style. The two lower stages retain traces of the gilt ground against which the etching would contrast.

The upper portion of the skull is recessed and decorated with a radiating pattern of panels filled with strapwork and small tendrils, alternating with panels of foliage and the base enclosed by a cabled border. The medial area is raised and entirely covered with an encircling broad band of close-set narrow flutes. The fluting is etched with longitudinal designs of scrollwork and flowers in a European interpretation of the ‘Moresque’ style. Beneath the fluted band the rim is recessed and decorated with an etched horizontal band of ribbon-work interlace on a ground of small tendrils, again in imitation of the ‘moresque’. All of the etched designs were intended to contrast against a gilt ground, of which traces remain.

The brow of the skull is pierced for fitting a nasal bracket, the front and sides pierced for attaching a plume-holder, a peak and cheekpieces respectively, and the rearward portion with a row of small holes for an aventail.

For an illustrated discussion of Nuremberg and Augsburg helmets of this exotic type see Yurij A. Miller, ‘Various Categories of Oriental Helmets From the 16th and 17th centuries and Their European Derivatives’, in Vaabenhistoriske Aarbøger, (Journal of the Danish Arms and Armour Society) Nr. 51, 2006.