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Italian Half Armor

Can a man wearing steel plates be graceful and elegant? From the look of this armor, the answer is yes. Every inch of the upper body is shielded from harm. But the arms are still slender and the waist trim. Delicate designs summon a picture of high society, not the mud-spattered mess of a battlefield. Make no mistake though—this armor was meant to keep the man inside alive in the heat of a fight.

Northern Italy
Half armor, about 1570-80
Steel, leather, cloth
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

A soldier’s armor reflected the weapons he might meet with in battle.
Ornately decorated armor displayed the wearer’s wealth and status.
Many skilled craftsmen had a hand in the production of armor.

Hard to Resist: The designs on this armor were painted on the metal with a wax or varnish “resist.” When dipped in acid, the metal was eaten away wherever it was not coated. Rubbed with a mixture of soot and linseed oil, these areas turned black, completing the design. Create a similar effect using a simpler “resist” technique. Draw a design on light-colored construction paper with white wax crayon. Then paint over your drawing with black paint thinned with water. Watch your design emerge as the wax crayon “resists” the watery paint.  

Joints and Hinges: Body armor is hinged to allow the joints of the body to move. How many different ways can the arms and torso move? Identify the joints involved and research how they function. How does the design of this armor reflect the way the joints move?  

A Day in the Life: What was going on in Europe at the time this armor was made? Use the library to research the decade of the 1570s. Was it peaceful or war-torn? How might a European nobleman have spent his days?  

Knights in Central Park: Learn about arms and armor from around the world through the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The online resource Knights in Central Park includes video segments of armor in use.  

February 2006