Peter Finer

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A Heavy Shot-Proof ‘Savoyard’ Helmet, c. 1600-20

Item Ref: 1442 Price on application

1442 11

Probably Italy. Iron, brass.


Baron Hans de Schulthess (1885-1951), Schloss Au, near Zurich, Switzerland

Claude Blair, European Armour, London, 1958, p. 150
José-A. Godoy, ‘Les Armets Savoyards du Musée d’Arte et d’Histoire de   Genéve’, Genava, N. S. Vol. L, 2002, pp.11-97 

Helmets of this type were worn by the cuirassiers of the heavy cavalry. Constructed of a heavy, shot-proof weight, they were for this reason often used in the escalade – the storming of a heavily fortified enemy position. 

They are called Savoyard, in part, because it is believed that large numbers of this type, today in the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva, were taken as booty from the troops of Charles-Emmanuel I of Savoy following his army’s unsuccessful assault on the Swiss city in 1602.  Savoyard helmets are also referred to as Todenkopf, meaning ‘Death’s head’ in german, named so for the eerie, skull-like like mask of their visor. Our example is a rare type: the hinged cheek pieces which fasten at the chin are reminiscent of the ‘armet type of close helmet, worn in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

This helmet belonged to Baron Hans de Schulthess (1885-1951), a successful Swiss banker and prominent arms and armour enthusiast at the turn of the last century who amassed a notable collection.

Savoyard helmets show various expressions: almond or round eyes, mouths open, closed or even smiling as may be seen here; perforated moustaches or prominent noses decorate others.  Comparable helmets may be seen in the large group in the Musée d’Arte et d’Histoire, Geneva (inv. nos. C 874 & 876) and in the Museo Stibbert, Florence (inv, no, 2875) . 

With rounded skull formed in two pieces joined along a low roped medial comb, fitted at the left of the nape with a tubular plume-holder, and flanged outwards at it base to form an integral rear gorget-plate. The peak and bevor attached to the skull by common pivots, the former fitted with a mask-like face-guard cut at its upper end with almond-shaped eye-openings and embossed beneath them with a nose and grinning mouth pierced with six circular ventilation-holes, and the latter flanged outwards at its base to form an integral front gorget-plate. The face-guard secured to the bevor, and the bevor secured to the skull at their right sides in each case by swivel-hooks and studs, the main edges of the helmet finished with roped inward turns, accompanied in the case of those of the gorget-plates by brass-capped lining-rivets occupying recessed borders, all surfaces blackened .

Size: Height 32 cm / 12.6 in, Width 25 cm / 9.8 in, Depth 25 cm / 9.8 in