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Breastplate

  • Place of origin:

    Milan (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1585 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Piccinino, Lucio (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Steel, embossed and damascened with gold and silver, partly gilt

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by D. M. Currie

  • Museum number:

    M.144-1921

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, The Foyle Foundation Gallery, case 19

Of all the possessions of the sixteenth century nobleman, none spoke more powerfully of his honour, wealth and status than his armour. This breastplate is designed for a youth and is possibly part of a series of suits presented to the future Philip III of Spain in the 1580s. As part of a matching suit of armour it would have made a spectacular display at pageants and tournaments.

Breastplates formed the centrepiece of defensive armours, usually carrying the central decorative motifs and protecting the body's vital organs. Armours for tournaments and parades were decorated according to the latest fashion and their cost made them the preserve only of the very wealthy. This pointed breastplate closely resembles the 'peascod' style of clothing popular among late 16th century nobles.

During the mid-16th century a new fashion emerged in Europe for arms and armour based on the forms found in classical art. High relief embossing and rich gold damascening decorated parade armour alla romana antica (in the ancient roman style). The decoration of this breastplate is in the style of the workshop of Lucio Piccinino (born around 1535, active around 1570-1589) of Milan. Piccinino was an armour embosser and damascener. He had, claimed Paolo Morigia in his La Nobilita' di Milano, published in 1595, “in his ornamentation of iron in relief with figures, animals and grotesque masks, etc., and likewise in his damascened work, produced masterpieces which are among the most choice and precious.”

Physical description

Steel breastplate for a youth, of peascod shape, embossed and damascened with gold and silver, and partly gilt, decorated at the top with a Medusa's head flanked by figures of victory blowing trumpets. Below this are two figures of captive youths back to back resting on an arch beneath which is a figure of Mars standing on a bracket supported by two satyrs resting on a ram's head. Below this is a cartouche with a small figure of Apollo. On either side are vertical bands with garlands, strapwork and masks alternating with bands of figures with backgrounds ornamented with minute arabesques.

Place of Origin

Milan (made)

Date

ca. 1585 (made)

Artist/maker

Piccinino, Lucio (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Steel, embossed and damascened with gold and silver, partly gilt

Dimensions

Height: 45.5 cm positioned upright, Height: 33.5 cm at rest, Width: 33.4 cm, Depth: 23.0 cm positioned upright, Depth: 30.5 cm at rest

Object history note

This breastplate is strikingly similar to several suits in the Royal Armoury, Madrid. Many armours in Madrid were broken and removed during the early 19th century and other sold. The breastplate was subsequently in the Bernal Collection Sale of 1855, lot 2420, whose catalogue stated that 'This remarkably fine breast-plate formed part of the armour of Philip IV of Spain and was given to Don Sebastian, from whose representatives Mr. Pratt obtained it, and sold it to Mr. Bernal.'

The most similar suit of armour at Madrid however, is one made for Philip III (r.1598-1601) when a child, and presented to him by the Duke of Terranova, Governor of Milan (B4-5). However, this breastplate is not an extra piece from this suit. It does not disprove the tradition that Philip IV (b. 1605) may have worn it.

The breastplate was later in the Londesborough Collection from which it was sold at Christie's on the 4th July 1888 (lot 304).It was later in the collection of Mr David M. Currie who bequeathed them to the Museum in 1921.

Historical significance: The breastplate is remarkable for the richness and variety of its decoration, something for which the armourers of Milan were renowned. The whole surface is covered with magnificent chased and damascened (inlaid gold) ornament that includes figures of Mars, Fame and Victory. The breastplate was part of a parade armour, rather than a protective battle suit, and would have created a spectacular display as part of a matching suit of armour. Its possible association with the Royal Armoury in Madrid, and the possibility that they were part of a suit worn by either Philip III or Phillip IV of Spain, puts it in the top echelons of aristocratic patronage. The Spanish nobility, particularly the royal family were the best customers for the Italian armourers in the later 16th century and the decline of Spain as a force after 1600 seriously impacted on the armourers' markets.

The decoration is in the style of the workshop of Lucio Piccinino (born around 1535, active around 1570-1589), one of the great armourers of Milan. This attibution depends stylistically upon a suit in Vienna (A.1132) made for Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, being correctly identified with one referred to by Morigia's Nobilitá di Milano in 1595 as having been made for him by Piccinino.

Lucio Piccinino was an armour embosser and damascener. His work represents one of the last last great flourishes of the armourer's art before heavy musket shot put paid to the all-over dress armours. Piccinino had, claimed Paolo Morigia in his La Nobilita' di Milano published in 1595 "in his ornamentation of iron in relief with figures, animals and grotesque masks, etc. and likewise in his damascened work, produced masterpieces which are among the most choice and precious." Piccinino made armour for princes and kings including a parade armour for Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza (1545-1592), now in the Kunsthistorischesmuseum in Vienna.

The manufacture of arms and armour was for centuries Milan's most famous export. The industry in Milan was centred on a few workshops run by families specialising in armour of great beauty and artistic skill for a wealthy, aristocratic market. Along with Missaglia, the Negroli, Giovan Battista Zarabaglia and Pompeo della Cesa, Lucio Piccinino was the most important.

Historical context note

Of all the possessions of the sixteenth century nobleman, none spoke more powerfully of his honour, wealth and status than his armour.

Breastplates formed the centrepiece of defensive armours, usually carrying the central decorative motifs and protecting the body's vital organs. Armours for tournaments and parades were decorated according to the latest fashion and their cost made them the preserve only of the very wealthy. This pointed breastplate closely resembles the 'peascod' style of clothing popular among late 16th century nobles.

During the mid-16th century a new fashion emerged in Europe for arms and armour based on the forms found in classical art. High relief embossing and rich gold damascening decorated parade armour alla romana antica (in the ancient roman style). Armour was commissioned by Renaissance kings and noblemen who projected their power and status by portraying themselves as figures from classical mythology. This example is a vituoso piece of Renaissance 'antique' armour.

Descriptive line

For a youth, steel, embossed and damascened with gold and silver, possibly by Lucio Piccinino, Milan, ca. 1585.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Hayward, J. F., European Armour, London, 1965, cat. 32
Laking, Sir Guy Francis, A Record of European Armour and Arms Through Seven Centuries, G. Bell and Sons, London 1921, Vol.III, p.339.
Grancsay, S.V., "Lucio Piccinino, Master Armourer of the Renaissance", Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, April 1964, pp. 519-536 (mentioned p. 522)
Pyhrr, Stuart W. and Godoy, Jose-A., Heroic Armor of the Italian Renaissance: Filippo Negroli and his Contemporaries, Exhibition Catalogue, 08 October 1998 - 17 Januray 1999, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, passim.
Kelly, F.M., "The Vienna Armoury", The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 37, No. 213, December 1920, pp. 310-311, 314-315
Patterson, Angus, Fashion and Armour in Renaissance Europe: Proud Lookes and Brave Attire, V&A Publishing, London, 2009, ISBN 9781851775811, p. 82, ill.

Materials

Steel; Gold; Silver

Techniques

Embossing; Forging; Gilding; Damascening

Subjects depicted

Strapwork; Masks (design elements); Satyrs; Arabesques

Categories

Arms & Armour; Ceremonial objects; Metalwork; Royalty; Europeana Fashion Project

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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