Imperial Austria: Treasures of
Art, Arms and Armor from the State of Styria
Date created: November 16, 1995Last updated: July 13, 2001
Arms and Armor as Art Form
and the Decorated Surface
Field armor; probably made partly in Innsbruck,
1540-1550; Joanneum Graz, Landeszeughaus. Photo: Lynn Diane
Many German and Austrian breastplates from the
mid 16th century bear a crucifixion-and-kneeling-knight motif. It is
thought that in some cases these were personalized devotional images
to protect the owner in battle.
In addition to their obvious functions, arms and armor were measures of
rank, wealth, and personal taste in the 15th through 17th centuries.
Armor was so closely related to fashion that it sometimes paralleled it;
pleats of civilian clothing were copied in Maximilian-style armor, for
example, and armour design was adapted to accommodate the puffed
breeches in style in the 17th century. Adept armor designers combined
their fashion sense with impressive knowledge of defence, smithing, and
human anatomy to produce beautiful yet functional protective equipment
appropriate to the wearer's rank.
Halberds, probably made in Upper Austria, late 16th
century, and boar spear, made in Styria, dated 1573;
Joanneum Graz, Landeszeughaus. Photo: Richard
Although halberds were largely obsolete in combat by
the 17th century, they continued to be carried on ceremonial occasions
or as a sign of rank. Their flat blades and unusual shapes were
challenging surfaces for talented decorators of arms.
Both arms and armor provided surfaces for decorators who, infused with
Renaissance and Baroque artistic energy, skilfully embellished the
material. In metalworking centres such as Augsburg and Nuremberg, there
was an active interchange among craftsmen. Etchers such as Daniel Hopfer
(1470-1536) of Augsburg, to whose school the horse armor ornament is
attributed, decorated many different kinds of metal surfaces such as
armor, copperplates for printing on paper, and silver.
For their design sources, decorators relied on published Italian
Renaissance motifs inspired by classical ornaments. Scrolls, arabesques,
and grotesques were particular favourites. The moresque, based on Islamic
designs, was also popular. Designs were applied to everything from arms
and armor to wooden gun stocks inlaid with stag horn.
Morion, made in Nuremberg, c.1575, by Master "MR"
(perhaps Martin Rotschmied, Michel Roth or Martin Rotschuch); Joanneum
Graz, Landeszeughaus. Photo: Michael Oberer
Prints on paper disseminated designs developed in Italy
to artists and artisans working throughout Europe. The moresque patterns
etched on the skull and brim of the morion (an open helmet used by
infantry and light horsemen), and the arabesque, the foliate pattern etched
on the morion's comb, were Italian and Islamic variations on traditional