Printer Friendly Version

Italian Half Armor

The biblical heroine Judith appears on the breastplate of this armor.

The shape and decoration of armor sometimes reflected popular clothing styles. A fashionable man in northern Italy in the 1570s might have worn an outfit like this one. Gentleman's Attire. Page from The Milanese Tailor's Handbook.

Some armors were made for festival tournaments rather than actual battles. Such mock battles could be very dangerous. This helmet in the shape of a face has deep cuts on one side. Germany, Helmet with “grotesque” mask visor, about 1520-25. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

key idea
Ornately decorated armor displayed the wearer’s wealth and status.

Common soldiers wore plain armor issued from a city’s storeroom—the “armory.” An officer, however, purchased his own armor. It not only protected him in battle, but also displayed his wealth and status. Although decorated armor was costly, being prepared for battle was part of a nobleman’s duty.

During the Renaissance (1400s and 1500s), armor was sometimes decorated with scenes from the Bible or with military designs from ancient Greece and Rome. On the front of this half armor, the biblical heroine Judith appears dressed as a Roman soldier. She holds a sword and the head of Holofernes, the general she killed to save her city. If an armor was made to order for a particular person, family emblems or personal mottoes might be included.

Often the customer lived far away from where the armor was made. Noblemen across Europe wore armor produced in famous workshops located in northern Italy and Germany. This Italian-made half armor, though ornate, was meant for battle. But it would also have served a nobleman in peacetime, as dress for official ceremonies, civic festivals, or portraits.

February 2006