Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Fashion in European Armor

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  • Armor was subject not only to technical advances but also to changes in taste as well as aesthetic and artistic expression within each period of its development.

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    Like most manmade objects, armor was subject not only to technical advances but also to changes in taste as well as aesthetic and artistic expression within each period of its development. In broad outline, this can already be witnessed in the armor worn by warriors throughout the ancient world. In medieval and Renaissance Europe, especially from the fourteenth century onward, it is apparent that armor was strongly influenced by contemporary civilian costume according to current tastes and regional fashions (in some rare instances, armor could even influence civilian fashion). Such influences and fashions could change relatively quickly, and it is probably no exaggeration to argue that, to medieval and Renaissance minds, a concept similar to our understanding of "the '50s," "the '60s," and "the '70s" for the taste of a particular age or decade would probably have been quite familiar. In addition to the influence civilian costume had on the general appearance of armor, such as form and outline, different tastes and fashions are also clearly recognizable in the decoration of armor. To some extent, finally, technical developments and constructional features could also be so confined to a certain region that they can be classified as a local or national style. The study of "fashion in armor" accordingly can provide scholars with valuable information for the dating and geographical identification of armor. The following texts will give a broad outline of fashion in European armor from the eleventh to the seventeenth century, including a selection of the most important developments as well as a number of lesser known trends.

    Dirk H. Breiding
    Department of Arms and Armor, The Metropolitan Museum of Art