Crupper Plate

Possibly Flemish or German

Not on view

Much lighter, and probably faster and cheaper to produce than metal defenses, armor made from shaped and hardened leather (cuir bouilli) was used throughout Europe for war, tournament, and parades from at least Roman times until the end of the sixteenth century. Although very few examples of cuir bouilli armor survive, its use as a defense for both man and horse was once much more widespread than is commonly assumed. In 1547, for example, the Master of the Armoury at the Tower of London bought forty-six "leather barbes" (bards), together with the same number of leather crinets, for an imminent campaign in Scotland. In addition, the inventories of the armory at Neuburg Castle, Bavaria, seat of the Counts Palatine of the Rhine, list no less than half a dozen sixteenth-century leather bards for the personal use of the counts' horses. Leather bards could be worn without further protection for the head or neck, although shaffrons, with or without crinets, were usually added for increased protection. The record of the 1547 English purchase reveals that such neck defenses could also be of leather, while the Neuburg inventories indicate that their leather bards were completed by metal shaffrons and crinets (see acc. nos. 14.25.1654, .1655).

The Museum's three cuir bouilli elements (this crupper plate and a pair of peytral plates, acc. no. 26.235.2–.3) originally formed part of a horse's complete front and rear defense. The front defense, or peytral, which protected the chest and shoulders, is represented by its two side panels; the central section that connected them is missing. Of the rear defense, or crupper, which covered the horse's croup and hindquarters, only the upper plate is preserved. Shaped over the points of the hips and tail, the crupper would have been completed by one or more small pieces elongating it at the front, as well as by several plates at the sides and rear protecting the rear flanks down to the level of, or slightly below, the abdomen. Several pairs of holes running along the main edges of all three plates indicate that the missing pieces were once attached by laces, the common form of construction for leather bards according to pictorial evidence.

All that is known of the history of these pieces is that they are said to have come from the collection of the barons Biche of Teruel in Spain. A circular mark painted on the inside of all three could not be indentified, nor do the form and construction reveal any information about their origin. It may be significant that the small triangular extension at the rear of each peytral panel and the panels' rounded upper edges are also found on a number of surviving peytrals associated with the Brussels workshop of Emperor Maximilian I. Analysis of the pigments shows them to be consistent with sixteenth-century paints (the white, for example, contains lead rather than zinc, the usual modern component). However, the colors themselves––white with a red border––are not helpful because they are not accompanied by a coat of arms or inscription. This combination was used widely throughout Europe as an allusion both to Christ and more commonly to Saint George; in a more specifically heraldic context, white and red were colors of both England and Austria.

These crupper and peytral plates appear to be the only surviving specimens of leather horse armor in North American collections. In addition to some excavated examples of Roman shaffrons and peytrals, the few remaining pieces of late medieval and Renaissance cuir bouilli horse armor include an early-fifteenth-century shaffron and an early-sixteenth-century crupper in Salzburg (Museum Carolino Augusteum, W 374 and W 375, respectively); a late-fifteenth-century shaffron and an early-sixteenth-century left peytral plate in Naples (Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, OA 1907, 1986 [the shaffron], s.n. [the peytral plate]); an early-sixteenth-century peytral and crupper at Erbach Castle, near Darmstadt; an early-sixteenth-century crupper in Leeds (Royal Armouries, VI.87); the peytral and crupper from a horse armor of about 1530 for Ottheinrich, Count Palatine (1502–1559), in Turin (Armeria Reale, ex B2); and a right peytral plate of about 1550 in Paris (Musée du Louvre, N 1137). The location of another "leathern horse armour," said in 1922 to be in the collection of Mr. Godfrey Williams, Saint Donat's Castle, Glamorgan, Wales, is presently unknown.

Most of the leather bards mentioned above are gessoed and painted with some form of ornament. Several, such as those in Capodimonte and the Louvre, have sophisticated figural compositions executed in grisaille and highlighted in gold, while the Turin bard has the personal emblems of Ottheinrich and his wife, Susanna, painted in color and presumably was made for use on the occassion of their marriage in 1529. The Museum's leather elements, with their simple color scheme, are much more modest and probably were intended for a man-at-arms.

Crupper Plate, Leather, gesso, paint, Possibly Flemish or German

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Leather crupper from a horse armor