Shaffron (Horse's Head Defense)


Not on view

This shaffron is a late example of its kind and a rare specimen of probable Dutch manufacture. The main plate ends in a blunt point near the top of the nose and has wide cutouts for the eyes and ears. It is fitted with ear guards, which were originally attached by screws (one screw for each remains, the second now replaced by a rivet), small, hinged sideplates above the eyes, and a hinged poll plate. The edges of all the plates are turned and are followed by a series of steel rivets with gilt domed heads that secure portions of the original leather lining straps, indicating that the shaffron was once fully lined. Confined to narrow vertical bands over the main surfaces and similar bands around the edges, the decoration, which is chiseled and gilt overall, consists of flowers, trophies of arms, and bound captives suspended on a central ribbon, the background punched with tiny circles. The plain surfaces, now polished white, were formerly blued, but only traces of the bluing remain in the margins of the plates. At the center of the main plate is a spike set on a washer that is decoratively cut and pierced in the form of four conjoined fleurs-de-lis; the spike and washer are gilt.

The shaffron belongs to a distinctive group of early-seventeenth-century armor formerly thought to be English but later identified as Dutch. Two shaffrons of nearly identical form, having wide eye-openings, bluntly pointed ends, lining rivets encircling each plate, and similar chiseled and gilt decoration, are found among the English royal armors preserved in the Royal Armouries, Leeds. One of them (II.91) belongs to an armor originally made for Henry, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of King James I, but not delivered until after his death in 1612. The armor, chiseled with foliate scrolls and gilt overall, is documented as having been purchased from the armorer of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange, at The Hague. The other shaffron (VI.59) forms part of an armor believed to have been produced for the future Charles I, Henry's younger brother, perhaps in 1616, when he was invested as Prince of Wales. Its decoration consists of wide vertical bands of chiseled and gilt foliate scrolls. Though no documentary evidence attests to its manufacture in Holland, Charles's armor is so similar in build, construction, and decoration to that of his brother, made in The Hague, that it too can be securely identified as Dutch. The washer beneath the spike at the center of this shaffron, with its openwork fleur-de-lis motif, echoes generally similar decoration on the openwork plumeholders found on Dutch helmets.

This important shaffron has failed to attract scholarly attention since it was acquired by the Museum with the Dino colleciton in 1904. it was listed by not illustrated in the Dino catalogue, but its significance was recognized by the catalogue's author and by the shaffron's former owner, C. A. de Cosson, who considered it to be English and quite rightly compared it to the royal armors mentioned above.

Shaffron (Horse's Head Defense), Steel, gold, leather, Dutch

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