Metropolitan Museum – Arms And Armour

While the collection of Arms and Armour of the Metropolitan Museum may not be compared with the inexhaustible collection of the Historical Museum at the Johanneum, Dresden, or the Wallace Collection at Hertford House, London, it, nevertheless, presents a respectable array of the work of the armourer, the German Waffenschmidt.

The integral parts of the collection are the one formed by Mr. William J. H. Ellis, of Ellerslie, Westchester, England the Dino Collection, formed by Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, Duc de Dino; the remarkable Bashford Dean Collection of Japanese Armour; and periodical additions made by purchase or gift.

There are several pieces of ancient armour in bronze of great interest — a Casque from Capua, of the 6th century B. c.; a Greek cuirass, of the 5th century B. C.; a conical shaped Sicilian casque, simply formed and having the characteristics of the 4th century; several Roman casques of the 3d century B. C.; and an Etruscan bronze waist-band and fastener. Of a bronze corselet of the Hallstatt period, of the Celtic or Italiote type (from the 5th to the 7th century A. D.) only seven specimens are known to exist. Its form is archaic, straight in the back and sides, and low in the shoulders. The ornamentation consists of repousse tubercles, characteristic of the Hallstatt epoch. Of the same style and period is an early bronze casque.

Of two fine antique bronze helmets one is Greek, of the pointed-cap or pilos type, perfectly plain in shape and without decoration. The other one appears to have belonged to one of the Teutonic tribes which invaded Greece and Northern Italy, as it has on each side the hollow projection for the insertion of horns which these barbarians wore.

The arms used in the middle ages were of the greatest variety. In the early part of the feudal period, and up to the reign of Charles VII of France, who was the first to organize regular companies, the armies were composed of the serfs of the different vassals, and as each man had to equip himself, uniformity was out of the question. Old tapestries and miniatures in book illumination show the manner of equipment when this became more uniform. The body was protected by a tunic or coat of leather, or by a rudimentary coat of mail; a pointed metal cap served as helmet ; and the armament consisted of the bow, the spear, and a long flat sword.

Later the helmet became cylindrical in shape, resting on the shoulders, and large enough for the head to move freely. It had openings or slits for sight and breath, and was called a heaume. The arms were hatchets and battle axes, metal balls covered with spikes swinging by a chain from the end of a club, and other formidable weapons. By the time of the Crusades a more convenient helmet, called the bassinet, replaced the heaume, and plate armour gradually developed, until it attained the state of perfection of the 14th and 15th centuries. Its component parts-were a cuirasse, made in two pieces, closing round the body like a box ; a gorget to protect the throat; brassards or armpieces; pieces forming a sort of skirt below the cuirass, called faudes; cuissards or thigh pieces ; leg and knee pieces, shoes and gauntlets. The helmet, called an armet, was composed of a cap, a chin-piece, and a visor, which, being hinged at the sides, could be raised or lowered at will.

Long after the invention of fire-arms armour was still worn, but the helmets were replaced by metal caps with wide rims of diverse shape to protect the face, neck or ears. They were called bourgignotte, morion or cabasset, and the peculiar caps of the French arquebusiers of the 16th century were called salades, on account of their similarity with salad-bowls.

The halberd was really a long-handled axe. The heads had a great variety of fanciful forms, occasionally decorated with gilding, the blade being frequently perforated with ornamental devices. Ultimately the halberd became purely a decorative weapon. The partisan was somewhat similar, yet quite distinct. Piques, faucardes, Guisearmes were also in use. Specimens of all these various parts of armour may be seen here.

The art of the armourer became peculiarly German after the Middle Ages, and even in the best catalogued collections many armours, and especially swords, are ascribed to other countries, when they came originally from the renowned Nürnberg masters, or from Colman, the famous armourer of Augsburg, who died in 1516. Dresden had also, in the 18th century, a celebrated gunsmith, Erttel.

A specimen that attracts deserved attention is a complete harness for man and horse, of German workmanship, dating from the times of the Thirty Years’ War, about 1630— which is rather a late date for armour, especially the panoply of the horse being then discarded.

A cap-a-pie armour of Nurnberg is of 1590, and a ” jousting armour ” or ” tilting suit ” is of the same period. There is one of the so-called ” fluted ” suits which came into fashion in the reign of the Emperor Maximilian, after whom they are also named. Their glancing surface gave better resistance to the opposing weapons, and therefore allowed of lighter weight. They date from the beginning of the 16th century. Most of these ” fluted ” specimens to be found in public or private collections are made up of different suits — helmet and gorget, palettes, vere and vam braces, gauntlets, jambs and sollerets are often gathered from different equipments. Complete Maximilian suits, built by the same smith, are of the utmost rarity.

An armour, decorated with battle scenes in repousse, and damascened, denotes the introduction of this style in German armour after 1515, although such decoration was practised long before by Italian armourers. The one before us is from Augsburg, 1580. A Swiss corselet of the landsknecht type (about 1580), an iron gorget of the 17th century, black morions with raised bands of the Bavarian type of the late 17th century, bring us to an interesting collection of swords.

There is an early sword, a panzerbrecher (late 15th century), with a long handle, short-branched guard, and a long, stout blade, triangular in section; a landsknecht sword, with irregularly out-lined pummel, and the original handle (fusee) of boxwood ; and a Gothic sword with a long blade, of the 15th century. An old-German inscription on a two-handed sword indicates it having belonged to a guard of a Duke of Brunswick. One sword has the handle and straight transverse guard which is characteristic of the 13th century. There are halberds, tilting lances, a 14th century pole-axe, a shield (Rondache), a curious double Korseke, and an ahlspiess (15th century) with its original rondell. Of fire-arms we find a pair of inlaid Saxon wheel-lock pistols (late 16th century) ; a pair of flint-lock pistols, with revolving barrels (18th century) ; a wheel-lock rifle, the stock richly inlaid (16th or early 17th century). A Crossbow, beautifully inlaid, of Tyrolese workmanship, is from the latter part of the 16th century. Together with it is a bunch of well-preserved bolts, or quarrels, with the winder by which the heavy steel bow was set.

A Partisan, with engraved blade, rosettes and hearts, is Venetian of the 15th century; a Runka is 16th century Italian; and a Plastron with two tassets is Swiss of the same period. A cap-a-pie, and a half-armour are Milanese, while a basinet with visor, an armet and rondelle are English.

The Chinese and Japanese used armour up to a recent date. The Japanese armour is made of metal and lacquer. The helmets are heavy and very fantastic in their ornamentation. The visor consists of an iron mask, made hideous with mustaches and beard of horse-hair. The flexible parts of the armour consist of lacquered bands strung together with silk after the fashion of Venetian blinds. In the civil war in Japan in 1859, these arms were still used by the old conservative party, which was defeated. Since then all modern improvements have been introduced.

An example of such primitive armour dates from the 8th century. There are complete suits of the 13th to the 16th centuries, and several almost complete suits of the 16th and 17th centuries. There is a magnificent and extremely rare complete armour of the early Kamakuro period ‘(1200 A. D.), with its wide Kusazuri, falling apron-like from the corselet, its broad neck-guard of the helmet, and the great ear-guards which roll outward from either side. This specimen shows the exquisite workmanship of the Japanese armourer as he used steel, bronze, leather and silk, as well as the graver for decoration.

Various types of breastplates, headpieces, masks, arm and shoulder-guards are shown. There is a helmet made by Nagazon Kotetsu, a celebrated sword-armourer who flourished about 1660. The cranial portion is dome-shaped, representing doubt-less the sacred egg, the Buddhist symbol of immortality ; the apical point has been developed into a rudimentary hachiman-za, an opening typical of Japanese helmets, through which the head of the wearer was supposed to come into contact with heavenly influences.

A Corean helmet of the 17th century is in the form of a low sugar-loaf dome. The browguard is shaped in the shape of shells, and surface of the cranial dome has been chiselled, leaving a delicate tracery in relief. The neckguard is of many delicate steel laminae unlacquered.

A modern Japanese helmet (or hachi) of iron bears close resemblance to the headpieces of the Ashikaza period (1336-1600) with modern ornamentation of plumblossoms and the sixteen-petalled chrysanthemum, which indicates that it was worn by a noble of the first rank. A deeply rounded war-hat, repousse, from a single piece of iron, is in the form of a resting devil-fish (octopus) with its tentacles retracted. It dates from the late 18th century.

Japanese swords are made of iron on which a steel edge has been welded, They are often exquisitely wrought, and vary in size from large double-handed blades to the short hara-kiri knife. The sword-guards are of iron or bronze, and always finely wrought and decorated, as may be seen in a large number of specimens. The scabbards of these swords are of wood, lacquered, or covered with paper or leather.