The Knight Armor Through The Middle Ages
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We will see together in more detail what a real Knight Armor was and what it was really used for. This complete blog article will send you straight back to the Middle Ages ! We've covered the subject of Knight Armor in detail and we hope you'll like this article.
1) Knight Armor Generalities and Prejudices
A. The Name and the Era
It is only from the 18th century that the term "Armor" is used to designate precisely all the protections of plates covering the whole body, even though they have stopped being used for a hundred years.
Previously, this defensive apparatus was known as "harness,” a word derived from the old Norse word "Hernest" meaning "provisions for the army,” "Her" for sergeant and "nest" for provisions. From the middle of the 15th century, because of the purity of the lines, the quality of the pieces and the fact that they were polished to a high gloss, the term "white harness" appeared. In the common imagination, armor is associated with the Middle Ages, whereas the complete harness covering almost the entire body only appeared around 1420, i.e., only in the very last decades of the Middle Ages, from the middle of the 5th to the middle of the 15th century.
It should also be remembered that this word "weave,” apart from all the meanings relating to protection, be it animal shells or materials such as cable sheathing, is also used in weaving where it designates the way in which the warp and weft threads constituting a fabric are interwoven.
B. The Weight of the Weaves
The weaves of traditional battles rarely exceeded 25 to 30 kg. Moreover, very few of these models remain, most of them presented in museums being called "composite" because they are reconstructed from scattered but chronologically contemporary pieces and coherent equipment.
History has preserved very few of the many simple functional harnesses that equipped small and medium sized Knighthoods. The notion of heritage extended to the most common objects being only very recent, they have for the most part been recycled over time, the material being worth at these times sometimes more expensive than the old-fashioned object. For a man of about 1.65m, the average weight of these complete battle armors in the 15th century was usually around 25 kg, equivalent to the weight of a complete mesh. Some later armors were even rather between 15 and 18 kg which is not much, even considering that at that time the armor was only partially worn, the most complete ones stopping at the knees. As for the later industrial armor known as very poor quality ammunition, it was only between 10 and 15 kg. In the same way, to return to the 15th century and to the complete harness, the tournament armor, which should not be confused with jousting armor, could also be very light, the rest of the prestige equipment, crests, mantling and armored cottons already taking up enough space.
Only the jousting armor towards the end of the 15th century, some rare siege armor with thick armor or some richly decorated parade armor in the 16th century (most of them never worn) could reach considerable weights of the order of 50 to 80 or even 90 kg and these are precisely the ones that have been best preserved. One cannot therefore reasonably judge the tactical effectiveness of the armor on the basis of the models preserved in greater numbers and especially the heaviest but without any real military utility.
For the same weight, the armor is less heavy than the brooch or full chain mail that preceded it. Indeed, the armor is practically self-supporting, the riveted parts between them distribute the weight uniformly, whereas almost all the weight of the brooch of mesh rests on the shoulders of the fighter. The small gain in mobility with the mesh is largely offset by the extra effort required for movement.
C. Utility, mobility, efficiency and disadvantages presupposed.
Armor and military equipment in general has always been very expensive. From the beginning, only leaders or important people could afford effective protection or weapons. The troop was equipped in a heterogeneous way and most often at random from fighting, looting and taking on the enemy, except for the Roman armies of earlier periods. The organization of the empire and the tax in the service of a hegemonic will allowing the maintenance of homogeneous and disciplined army corps.
With the harness becoming complete towards the end of the Middle Ages, the principle remained the same, implying that armor was only worn by the most fortunate fighters. This outward sign of wealth was in itself a guarantee of protection. The image of the Knight entangled in his armor and waiting for the mercy blow inserted in a joint of his shell is almost always wrong, the ransom that one can expect from a prisoner is measured by the measure of his equipment. You don't cut the throat of someone you can take advantage of, exceptions that strike the imagination and feed fantasies have often taken the place of generality...
The Knight immobilized on the ground is of the same fantasy, the perfect mobility and the relatively modest weight of the battle armor of the 15th century allowed all kinds of acrobatics, including and especially to ride alone on his horse or with the only light help of the squire who held it by the bridle. Even if it certainly takes part in it, it is not really the tack that immobilizes the Knight but the possible injury or the entanglement of the bodies and horses in the melee.
D. The Armor symbolizing the Knightly Spirit
Paradoxically, the evolution of the armor coincides with the decline of Chivalry, at least of the ethics that underpinned it from the beginning.
Born of the warrior nobility devoted in principle to defend the widow and the orphan, supported by the church which confers its dignity and its sacraments with the idea of building up an armed arm in an incessant ambiguous rivalry, the all too famous alliance of the sword and the gudgeon, chivalry has become gentrified over time. The lord established and strengthened in his power, well sheltered behind his ramparts, ironclad in his armor, whose value often guarantees his survival in case of defeat, is less and less exposed personally. As combat tactics evolved, the heroic spear charge, the outcome of which was commensurate with the risk involved, became outdated, and the emphasis shifted from recklessness and bravery to a more rational organization in which panache was sought more in appearance than in deed.
The richer and more powerful the fighter was, the more beautiful his armor was and the less inclined he was to expose himself to the hazards of the battle.
The most daring were always those who had nothing to lose and everything to gain, the most impecunious or cadets in search of fortune were often able to exercise their bravery to gain the favors of their suzerain or to carve out a place in the sun with the strength of their wrist. The quality of their armor has thus followed the evolution of their career, but for those who have survived and succeeded, there always comes a time when it becomes difficult to put one's position back on the line without an imperious necessity...
Depending on his rank and wealth, the Knight increasingly fought vicariously and the evolution of artillery greatly contributed to dissuade him from exposing himself. It was at the moment when armor reached its perfection that it ceased to be effective and its usefulness shifted more towards representation and appearance. The societal view of history sometimes challenges the axioms of our old apologetic school textbooks of heroic and patriotic deeds. It will be seen that today and from all eternity it is still the civilian who most often bears the brunt of war, while the risk to the military is calculated as sparsely as the means of protecting them are ever more developed. The grandiloquent tributes to the very rare victims of the rank and file and the fanciful parades are sometimes commensurate with the exactions perpetrated by a body that often boasts a supposedly glorious past to which it has only a very hypothetical and distant relationship.
E. The different types of Armor
There is a wide variety of armor and they can be classified in several ways into different categories that sometimes cross over. We'll stick to the flat armor when it becomes complete.
The body protections that have developed over the course of history to guarantee the fighter has very quickly diversified with the evolution of techniques and fashions. The prohibitive cost of the most powerful and prestigious pieces made the armor become a social marker of wealth and power as well as the prerogative of an elite that has arrogated exclusivity to itself by an ever more extravagant demand. The military fact taking precedence over the economy, the armor artists of this time knew how to answer this expectation.
At the same time, the function of armor evolved, losing its effectiveness in the face of military weapons and techniques, to be reinforced in its noble function of representation. The full armor was designed for the protection of the Knight in his war activity and originally this battle equipment was also used identically for the other activities of games, jousts and tournaments, coming from a time when some differences were settled by iron in organized meetings.
Attachments for the occasion transformed the battle armor into jousting or tournament armor in a relative economy. But the craze for these hobbies much less risky than the pitched battle, the development of techniques and the add-ons becoming more and more elaborate the armorers came to develop specific models of armor. The main modifications have mainly concerned the top of the armor, the left part of which has been reinforced with a coat of arms covering the shoulder and joining the high piece protecting the front of the helmet. All of this was done following patterns that spread throughout Western Europe according to circumstances.
Leisure and warlike games at the expense of entertainment for a spirited and turbulent nobility were also codified and structured into large prestige events where social rank could express itself in the debauchery of sumptuous protocols and prowess in public, far less risky than in a battle with an uncertain outcome. Armor accompanied this change in morals and can therefore be distinguished between two main functions, war and leisure, to which one can add prestige for certain models displaying pomp and authority through excess of decor.
Here the different elements of a 15th century knight's armor are as follows :
- The helmet
- The gorgerin to protect the neck
- The breastplate for the chest and back
- The shoulder spalier
- The washer fixed on the spalier
- The cubiere for the elbows
- The groin cup
- The poacher and the flanks for the pelvis
- The forearm cannon
- The gauntlet which is a metallic glove
- The leggings
- The Thigh guard
- The knee pad
- Shin’s strike
- The foot soleret
2) Armor for War
A. Battle Armor
Since this is its primary function, it is naturally in this category that we find the greatest variety of models and the greatest diversity of adaptations to uses and fashions.
Paradoxically, although they were the most numerous, they are currently the rarest, especially for the oldest. History and heritage having preserved over time only the richest models, most of the ordinary armor of the first times of their appearance has disappeared with the exception of a few rare examples often reconstructed and called "composite" because consisting of scattered pieces found scattered and reassembled by sorting consistency and dating.
One can judge partly the quality of armor in the fact that it does not oxidize easily. Even the most beautiful pieces have been corroded if they have been buried, but in normal conditions of conservation, we can see that the beautiful work of the best armor beaters has hardened the metal to make it harder and denser, making it less sensitive to natural oxidation.
- Heavy cavalry armor : These are the ones that immediately come to mind when you bring up the subject, laden with all the symbols and preconceived ideas, they clutter the imagination of a mythical past. Resulting from the evolution of the broigne of scales and mesh little by little reinforced with plates, they are really complete from the end of the XIV to reach their full development in the first half of the 15th century. They were the force of penetration of the opposing lines in the cavalry charges, but the evolution of weapons and battle tactics progressing faster than the organization, some famous disasters led to more rationality. This type of armor first equipped traditional chivalry and then, after 1445 and the reorganization under Charles VII, the ordinance and gendarmerie companies. These mounted bodies included are entirely iron-barred, but despite the general idea widely misused, the whole equipment remains of a very moderate weight. The complete battle armor does not exceed the thirty small kilos maximum and often less. The base of the tactical unit was the spear composed according to the wealth of the Knight baccalaureate of a variable number of following then according to the standard imposed by the ordinances of 6 to 8 men including a page and thereafter also a jack of arms who did not fight. The sergeant at arms who drove the spear was armed at his own expense and was not necessarily noble, provided he had the means of his equipment. On the other hand, the noblemen who had no money could be relegated to less honorable duties such as archery. Charles VII having instituted the army of trade and codified the uses by ordinances, it was necessary to equip all these beautiful people even if the cost remained the responsibility of the sergeant at arms. The banneret equipping himself and his troop according to his means made way for the sergeant at arms, who was held to a compulsory minimum. Everything that develops becomes more democratic and diversified, and armor is no exception to the economic rule. The manufacture in large numbers induces a decrease in quality for the common and in return a development towards excellence for the elite. Without totally losing its preponderance, heavy cavalry had to give way to other forms more adapted to new weapons.
- The armor of the reiters : This body originated in Germany in the 15th century and served both France and Spain, who rented these companies mainly for the wars of religion. Their poor quality armor was mostly blackened with paint to save the need for polishing and to simplify maintenance. Those that were of superior quality were hot blackened. The helmet was the bourguignotte, simple with cheekbones or complete with the face shield. The crayfish thigh was worn either mid-thigh or up to the knees, the lower legs were booted with leather. The armbands were not always complete, and models that stopped above the elbow were called stumped. The armor of reître helmet included did not exceed a dozen kilos... Called black devils, smeared, chaffed, black harnesses or black coats, the reiters were distinguished by these black armors with white stripes. It is said that they also blackened their faces to inspire more terror. These black stripes were also called pistols or devils with pistols because of the wheel pistol they were equipped with. The tactic consisted of successive cavalry charges that would fall back to the rear of the line after the shot was fired to reload to start over, this maneuver was called the slug or carocel. The Battle of Auneau in 1587 marked the end of this corps whose helmets and armor were used to fill in the ditches of the castle, which was later to become an "iron mine" for the local agricultural industry...
- The armor of the light horses and harquebusiers : Apart from the indispensable armor and helmet (morion or cabasset), the light cavalry such as dragons did not wear armor, except for the light horses and some harquebusiers who wore the improperly named "half armor" since only the lower leg strikes and solerets were missing. They are almost the same armor models as those which equipped the reisters, but in polished steel and of slightly higher quality. This cavalry was therefore much lighter in equipment and armament than the large cavalry of Knights and gendarmes. Their horses were also lighter and less expensive to maintain, which explains why their numbers grew very quickly, especially as the traditional and honorable weapons of the heavy cavalry began to fall out of fashion. The spear became lighter and easier to handle and handguns developed very quickly. A fashion appeared around 1570 with the wearing of the mandil over the armor. It is a kind of dalmatic with a handle that was worn by attaching it to the shoulders but under the spallions and whose sleeves remained floating.
- Savoyard armor : Very similar to the previous ones but with a variable quality of finish often more basic although the whole remains very harmonious. They are especially characterized by their typical helmet, hybrid between the armet and the burgundy, pulling sometimes more towards one and sometimes more towards the other but in both cases called "Savoyard style,” drawing a face and often provided with a visor.
- The armor of cuirassiers and lancers : Appearing in the middle of the 16th century, these corps were intended to replace the heavy cavalry that had fallen into disuse and whose numbers were diminishing. They wear the so-called industrially manufactured ammunition armor of mediocre quality. This model with crayfish which stops at mid-leg including knees does not exceed about fifteen kilos and to compensate for its weakness the breastplate reinforcement forms a double breastplate, hence the name of corasse or corassier which will appear in the seventeenth century. Some models often decorated could nevertheless be of good quality and reach about thirty kilos, but these armors were thus reserved for the elite and are to be classified in the category of command armor. War armor has thus followed the evolution of the practices and other subdivisions are to be noticed : Contrary to the received ideas, it should be specified that the war in the Middle Ages and even afterwards was especially a matter of poliorcetics. In fact, if we consider the totality of the confrontations, there were relatively few pitched battles where the fate of the weapons was very random, unlike the establishment of a siege that could be interrupted if chance turned against it. The strongest of the war activity being concentrated in a strategy of sieges the armor also adapted itself to it with techniques and weapons, as well as evolving towards its nobility function of representation two subdivisions can be retained to close the armor part of war.
B. Siege Armor
They appear late and mainly with the development of artillery which will provoke that of the defenses and in particular the trenches. The handguns becoming powerful it became necessary to reinforce the armor.
The siege armor is thus by necessity only a part of armor. In addition their use coincides with the evolution of fashion which sees the bottom of the armor disappearing to keep only the thigh cassettes of which certain models known as "crayfish" could go down to the knees. This fashion will extend to practically all the armors, the trumelières and solerets will be replaced little by the large boots without, however, disappearing completely, particularly on the armors objects of art or prestige which were not intended any more to be worn.
Siege armor is therefore characterized above all by an extra thickness of the most exposed parts so as to provide relative protection from snipers for the seat commanders who were inspecting their siege works and for the lookouts. It should also be considered that solerets are not very suitable for walking, let alone crawling in trenches where the search for mobility was decisive. The top becoming thicker and therefore heavier, it was also necessary to recover weight where protection was no longer useful.
In a certain sense, siege armor could be similar to jousting armor in terms of the distribution of weight and defenses on the front and top, but it differs completely from it on the question of mobility. It should be pointed out, however, that these seat armors were not really a category in themselves, very few could afford the luxury of a specific armor, and most often they simply adapted the armor they had by adding reinforcements, particularly on the armor, as in the case of armor for cuirassiers. For the bulk of the troops, those who were equipped with amours were most often satisfied with the cuirass and helmet, sometimes supplemented with spallions and thighs, and also but more rarely with armbands.
Paradoxically, it was also the time when these parts were manufactured in large numbers on an industrial scale, the quality and thickness of the metal were not always up to par and it could happen that these armor was more cumbersome than truly effective, to the point that some people sometimes preferred to get rid of them.
C. Command Armor
Without really being a category apart, we can classify here all the functional armor that is out of the ordinary. Each type of armor mentioned above has had "luxury" or at least higher quality versions, which are therefore entitled to be considered separately.
Great lords and warlords, captains and constables, and, of course, princes and kings needed to distinguish themselves on the battlefield or during demonstrations of their power, during military parades, troop reviews, parades, city entrances and processions in majesty, etc... It is the "prestige of the uniform" before the letter and even if these armors no longer have any combat function strictly speaking they remain the symbol of command in the continuity of the heroic gesture from which they came. "Follow my white plume," would have told someone...
The purity of the lines and the quality of the Lombard armors of the 15th century led the fashion towards competition, the Gothic armors just before the Maximillians and the process only stopped with the exhaustion of the subject in the 17th century. By extension, one can also classify in this category the armor art object which is the culmination and the apotheosis. Even when armors were ordered and made only for the prestige of the collection of rare and exceptional pieces, they remain attached to power and therefore to command.
3) Armor for the Game
Even if all armor reflects the mark of military power, some are resolutely oriented towards leisure and warlike games.
These armors can never be thought of in a real battle situation, not even in command in a ride or parade except during tournament festivities. In this category we will place only the specific models that can be divided into 2 very distinct groups : tournament armor for collective events such as the behemoth and the jousting armor. Comparison is not right but considering the adaptation of a common object to a playful practice, the example of the car seems to lend itself to the cause. The first car races saw standard vehicles compete, but very quickly the use of these vehicles led to the need for specific developments.
In the same way that it is hard to imagine a Formula 1 on the street, the jousting or tournament armor is absolutely no longer adapted for battle, it would be inconvenient and particularly vulnerable.
A. Tournament Armor
The tournament includes all martial events and war games, but without any particular precision, by tournament we mean mainly the Knight's twirl, the sword step and the behemoth. For this practice it is necessary to be able to maneuver over time in the best comfort of vision and mobility with maximum prestige in the costume.
When it is specific, the armor differs little from that of the battle except that it is very light. The tournament being practiced with the courteous weapon in a regulated and arbitrated framework makes it possible to use pieces in a very summary version sometimes even made of boiled leather. The breastplate is often very largely open worked for a gain of weight and comfort.
On the other hand, these armors were completed with richly armored sides and costumes, with Knights competing as much in presentation as in deeds of arms. The less fortunate used their battle armor for The Tournament, with the exception of the helmet, which became very specific with its wide grille protecting the face while allowing better breathing and offering a very large field of vision.
An important crest with sometimes crowns or tortoiseshells supplemented with mantling capped the helmet's stamp, the adornment of the Knight and his mount with all the ornaments representing his coat of arms would have been inconceivable and inoperative in a real combat situation.
B. The Jousting Armor
For jousting, on the other hand, the armor must be able to withstand the strong impact of the spear and reduce the risk of wood shrapnel penetrating the helmet visor.
It is in this practice that the armor differs the most from the battle armor, it is characterized in particular by the attention of reinforcements and special extra thickness in its upper parts and mainly on the left side most exposed to the impact of the spear. The bottom remained identical or even totally absent, replaced by protections forming one piece with the harness and the saddle. Many jousting armors are only presented in bust in museums.
Among the notorious differences, the helmet is now attached to the breastplate to guarantee maximum safety. From then on, these models could only be used for this kind of entertainment because by attaching the helmet to the breastplate, the Knight lost a large part of his autonomy of movement. On the other hand, he was assisted by his people, valets and squires who equipped him, put him in the saddle and took care of all the necessities such as presenting him with his spear and sometimes even leading his horse in hand at the end of the race, which would have been unthinkable in the heart of the battle. This type of armor was probably the reason for the misunderstanding of their weight and the belief that Knights who were immobilized in their straitjacket became vulnerable to the first blade that came along.
The practice of jousting has evolved a lot since its origins, its rules, codes and equipment have followed the evolution of customs and techniques. In addition to the main characteristics defined above, we can add some elements such as the armor stops on the breastplate and the lance supports fixed on the backrest, to help support the weight of the lance by the whole. This mode of so-called heavy jousting came from Germany. The targe also completes this equipment and is often inseparable from it because some models correspond exactly to the armor they are part of. Sometimes fixed directly on the armor, this very specific little shield has also known an infinity of variety and models, let us quote in particular the so-called smart targe which burst into eight pieces when it was correctly hit by the spear. The joust was the most popular event of the chivalry tournaments because it allowed individual confrontation and thus to stand out from the crowd to be noticed. A way to make a place for the most skillful in society.
Although many models of helmets could be adapted such as the salad with its gorgerin or the armet completed with the high piece, the famous helmet called toad remains the most emblematic of this practice with its shape and its flowing lines ensuring a good safety against the penetration of the lance. Following the example of tournament armor, the jousting armor was embellished with all the ornaments likely to honor the Knight who wore his weapons as conspicuously as possible. Crest and mantling, armored caparisoning, the jousting equipment at the base, already not very maneuverable, would have been even less compatible than the tournament equipment to fight a real battle.
4) The Evolution of Armor
In parallel with the diversification of armor according to its utility, the search for ever more luxurious pieces developed as craftsmen became more skilled, to the point of making works of art out of them.
Fashions accompanied the technicality of the artists, starting with the search for imitation as close as possible to the civil costume with its shapes and folds. Later on, they also tried to reproduce the aspect of the decoration of the fabrics, then the theme decoration took over to express itself in all the animals or mythological extravagances of inspiration. Thus the soleret for example has gone through all the trends and when the civil shoe was lengthened by excessive foals, the fashion was identical on the armors in the same period.
A. The so-called Maximilian armors
After the white harness which allowed displaying well-polished steel parts, folds and ribs appeared on some parts, allowing a greater resistance for a lesser thickness and therefore a weight saving.
Around 1475 the Gothic ribbed weave already prefigured what would be the Maximilian weave 30 years later by imitating the civil costume and reproducing in iron the folds of the fabric. Of German origin, the Maximilian pleated and grooved armor owes its name to Emperor Maximilian who strongly encouraged the German armor industry in the face of Italian competition.
Although most of these pieces were made long after his death in 1519. Although most of these pieces were made long after his death in 1519, this type of armor was immediately copied in Italy, which then abandoned it around 1520 and turned towards a mannerism which would in turn be declined in the French style with the school of Fontainebleau. The Maximilian armors open the way to the so-called suit armors which will approach more and more the suit by reproducing the forms and the materials, they also inaugurate the fashion of the decorated armors.
Except for a few princes and great lords nostalgic for the great chivalric epic who still maintain the tradition by organizing tournaments and spectacular festivities, at that time the armor gradually lost its military function strictly speaking. When they reach perfection, they only serve to enhance the prestige of certain powerful people who collect them and order at great expense ever more extravagant pieces where the best craftsmen and artists compete in skill and ingenuity. Most of these pieces will never be worn, or almost never, it is at this time with jewelry and architecture that art and technology offer the most accomplished, the most prominent characters must therefore invest their rivalries and sometimes fortunes. Three centuries later, the automobile with its gleaming chrome will have a similar function...
B. Suit Armor
Alongside the Maxilian armor, whose folds and grooves already evoked the stylized costume; particularly skillful gunsmiths produced armor that very faithfully reproduced the fashionable stitched stitches and tops of shoes of that era.
Very fine engravings imitated the damask fabric or velvet that appeared in the hollows. One of the most beautiful specimens with very voluminous puffed sleeves dates from 1520¸ signed Kolmann Helmschmied and kept at the Walffensammlung in Vienna. Unfortunately, no authorized photo is available for this amazing model if a good soul could remedy this I am interested... By the suite¸ the costume became so extravagant that it was very difficult if not impossible to progress in this way.
C. The Decoration of the Armor
A very beautiful exhibition presented in 2011 at the Musée de l'Armée at the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris and entitled "Sous l'égide de Mars" (Under the Aegis of Mars) brought together a very fine collection of the armors of the princes of Europe. Some pictures of these collections are present on this page.
From the appearance of the first armor in the 14th century, the brigandine's breastplate was decorated with painted emblems and coats of arms until the arrival of Milanese fashion and the first white harnesses, so named because of the color of the brightly polished steel. The quality of the metal and the finish appeared at the end of the 14th century, at the same time as the perfection of the pieces allowed the armor to be kept free of any decoration, because it was polished and polished, it underlined well the condition of the Knight who could then take great pride in it. These Italian armors were then very popular in France and England, while in Germany from the end of the 14th century the fragile painted ornaments were replaced by engraved motifs.
In the sixteenth century, the development of Renaissance techniques and arts was reflected on the armor by different, often confused, processes : engraving, chiseling, damascening, niellure, gilding and repoussé.
D. The different processes
- Engraving, consisted of digging clean, rimless cuts into the metal with a chisel, or scraping the design from the previously lacquered piece, and then etching the exposed metal with acid. The hollow decoration was then filled with a fire-treated varnish to appear in black on the polished bottom of the armor.
- The chasing consisted in carving the decoration in relief. Contrary to engraving, which uses sharp tools, chasing is done with chisels that push the steel in without cutting it. The parts to be chiseled were often brought back even in Damascus. In some cases the chasing was probably obtained by lost wax casting.
- The damascening consists in inlaying gold or silver threads in the steel of the armor previously engraved with a chisel for this purpose.
It should not be confused with damask made exclusively in the Orient.
- Damascus consists of laminating the metal at the forge by alternating layers of iron and steel that are then revealed with acid after machining, which gave the so-called Damascus weapons flexibility and hardness unequaled.
- The "niellure" is a little bit like damascening since it is the hot inlaying of small black enamel fillets. This enamel was made of galena, a natural lead sulphide. Imitations of niellé were used by cold enameling in black, red or white.
- The gilding of very beautiful pieces could be carried out by the classical process with leaves, or with a brush with ground gold. While some armor was gold-plated in this way, some was made of solid silver.
- The "repoussé" consisted in obtaining the relief pattern by hammering, unlike chasing.
E. Italian mannerism in the French style, the Fontainebleau School.
The decoration clearly takes precedence over the object itself until saturation, the armor is only the support loaded and overloaded with all the symbolism and mysticism that the artists were able to demonstrate. Mars and war are part of this accumulation of symbols and allegories, as are all kinds of fabulous beasts and animals. In the studios of Milan, Augsburg, Antwerp or Paris, the deeds of antiquity, the Trojan War, the works of Hercules, the epic of Alexander are all subjects that are destined to confer on the commissioner of the work the status of a half-God.
These armors are, of course, exclusive to the most prominent monarchs, but not all will have the use of them, some sketches will never be realized, while others if they have hardly ever been worn, on the other hand, they have traveled a lot, as in the case of the equestrian ensemble made for EriK XIV from Sweden, captured by the Danes during transport, later bought by the elector of Saxony, seized by the Russians in 1945 at the Dresden Museum, which will only recover it in 1958. .. These armors no longer need to be worn to experience the adventure... The most surprising thing is that most of these artists and especially those from Fontainebleau have remained anonymous, not even a hallmark distinguishes them, unless among this tangle of symbols they have surreptitiously concealed some personal subliminal message that we can no longer transcribe...
Some details about the decorations :
All the most advanced techniques have been used, and even mixed according to inspiration or talent, but the organization of the decoration is arranged according to rules like the architectural decorations of the palaces of the time.
- The candelabrum consists of a vertical arrangement to form dividing lines of decoration or to underline and accompany the line with a curve or a piece, for example the vertical bands of a cuirass, starting from the shoulders and front to tighten at the waist, or to accompany the continuity of a motif along the length of the crayfish thighs or the line of the armbands. These arrangements are embellished with all kinds of motifs, sometimes arranged symmetrically, where leaves, fruit and creatures are intermingled in garlands.
- The cartouche is a round, oval or geometrically shaped medallion that fits into the decoration, edged with ornamentation and in which a scene consisting of characters or landscapes is inscribed. It is the privileged place of allegories and the place where the general theme of the armor is inscribed in successive paintings.
- The leather is a geometric pattern of ornamentation that frames the cartouche and very often represents the stylized scroll of a parchment.
- The grotesque is a typical Renaissance style of ornament, alluding to the decorations found in the 'Domus aurea' (Nero's imperial palace) covered with strange, often grimacing motifs that also inspired Rabelais. Animals of all kinds are represented, insects, snakes, masks and interlacing, most often symmetrically arranged.
- The populated foliage is made up of plant arabesque decorations intertwining flowers, leaves and fruit and populated with characters, putti, animals, allegorical figures and fantastic creatures. The foliage is not an interlacing.
- The term "rinceau" is the end of a vegetable arabesque constituting the populated rinceau, decorated with a figure that comes out of it in the form of a trunk, as if the arabesque were its tail.
All these arrangements are distributed by making the best use of all the space available on each element of the armor until saturation, as if the decoration in profusion were the enemy of emptiness.
The equestrian bards offering more space, it is naturally the privileged place for the important motives, the armor then and, of course, the helmet was the object of very particular attention since it caps the whole. Nevertheless, as if there was still not enough space, a roundel was often added, which, due to its shape and surface, offered additional possibilities for artistic expression. This may be the source of the misunderstanding concerning the pleonastic addition of a shield on armor. Since each of these armors constitutes an aegis in itself, no functional military use should be sought in them, and above all no justification should be sought for the mercantile merchandizing of tourist shops that display their grotesque armors with inane shields.
One fact remains to be underlined before closing the chapter; all these decorations are of secular, historical and mythological inspiration, only very rare and very discreet allusions to Christian references are sometimes detectable among the profuse tangle. This may seem surprising in a world so consumed by the subject, but it is perhaps a way of affirming an independent and complementary filiation with an afterlife that joins the world of mystery from which the power naturally falls to them. There would still be much to say and extrapolate on the subject of armor, its history, its usefulness and its decorations, but my purpose was only to clear a little a badly maintained ground and too often crossed by neem.
F. The Armor and the Part of the Dream
In the collective imagination, armor refers to recognized values such as chivalry, honor, nobility, history, heritage, prestige, etc.
In order to enhance the value of a product, advertising often uses armor to reinforce an induced idea such as robustness or protection combined with the above-mentioned values, but sometimes also by turning the argument around for its passéist, old-fashioned and old-fashioned connotation. However the armor preserves its positive value because it is charged with a powerful imaginary. It is thus par excellence a communicating object of first choice which opens on the imaginary and which offers us the share of the dream.
It was thus normal and foreseeable that the mercantilism rushed there to use it up to the rope and well beyond. Since it appeals to the masses, it's a pittance without any historicity that is easily circumvented by mere commercial pretensions, the target is docile. Scrap metal does not imply that armor is historically credible, far from it. In the same way that it is difficult without learning how to distinguish the good vintage from the outrageously adulterated piquet, when it comes to armor the common tourist is often satisfied with a few preconceived ideas shaped and polished for ages...
Unfortunately, these prejudices allow all sorts of fanciful proposals that can be found in profusion in the "traps for gogos" shops that all get their supplies from the same sources of imports from countries that are often slave-owning countries. These trinkets of gugusses flourish mainly on tourist sites where this trade of exploitation of beaufitude is very well established.
Shamelessly impudent push the vice to the point of presenting pressed sheet metal armor known as Templar armor... These sad ersatz are so crudely flashy that they are only to be found in those who do not deserve better.
G. Small precision on the Armors known as of Knights Templar
The Templar Order was suppressed about 50 years before the first full armor appeared... Look for the mistake !...
But inculture and mercantilism go hand in hand in touristic country where a simple red or golden cross is used to rebuild "Templar" almost anything... Some overweening belistlers do not hesitate to wear armors of vaguely 15th to 16th century inspiration, and 13th-century type helmets. But what's 200 years for ignorant people...
In spite of the shameless pretension of the merchants, these armors obviously have absolutely nothing historical, not even the material very pompously baptized steel and often even specified from Toledo as if it was the pledge of some quality once brought by the Persians but totally forgotten and outdated for a long time ... Most often on these tourist models, the cubitiere allows only a very limited range of mobility just necessary to place the hands on the hilt of a sword in front of the fly, to speak only of the mobility of the arms. Here again, this confirms the received ideas by confirming the theory of the stupid Knight who locks himself in his armor to let himself be stupidly slit without being able to move...
Obviously, it is easy to claim that for "decoration" it doesn't matter if we disregard all the historical tangibility and as long as we consider these sad and crude imitations as decorative. But bad taste is everyone's business and unscrupulous, uncultured and greedy merchants have good reason to surf this very promising wave, stupidity sells much more easily when it is propagated. Anyone who has visited a museum of authentic armor will have realized that it is very rare, if not exceptional, to see armor displayed with a weapon. To top it all off, we reach the height of ridicule with the addition of a shield that could be described as a pleonasm, the armor taking the place of a total shield. The only exception will be for the jousting targe equipped with armor dedicated to this historical "sport" as well as for the rondache which will sometimes complete very decorated 16th century finery and in some cases only.
An honest armor will never be flanked by a battle shield and even less by the great Knights Templar Shield. It will then be enough to complete the whole with a halberd to wallow in the most perfect bad taste, in the ridiculous anachronism and imposture to history. No one can know everything, but no one is obliged to indulge in ignorance, and worse still, to take advantage of the ignorance of others is an indignity. Knowledge is the source of pleasures that flourish when shared without moderation.