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Of Arms and Men: Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan, 1912-2012

Of Arms and Men: Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan, 1912–2012

Pyhrr, Stuart W.
48 pages
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Arms and armor have played a vital role in every culture, from the ancient world to the modern one, not only in a military context but also in civilian life, notably in the hunt, sport, self-defense, and ceremony. Weapons remain time-honored symbols of power and authority, and in the past a warrior's armor, custom-fitted and decorated in the most sophisticated and up-to-date fashion, became a highly visible symbol of rank, wealth, and taste. Even in the late Baroque age, when armor had all but disappeared from the battlefield, European noblemen continued to be depicted in their formal portraits wearing armor to suggest their martial prowess and their place in the long-cherished, if waning, tradition of chivalry. The same was true in Japan. In the Edo period (1615–1868), when peace prevailed for more than two centuries, the samurai ordered traditional armor and weapons made by the best craftsmen to wear at court and in sport as a way of preserving their centuries-old warrior culture. Given the practical and symbolic importance of arms and armor, it is not surprising that the finest examples represent the highest artistic achievement and technical capabilities of their age.

Arms and armor have been an integral part of the Metropolitan's collection since the end of the nineteenth century, and they remain one of our most impressive and popular displays. Numbering today more than 14,000 objects, the Museum's holdings approach encyclopedic scope, encompassing examples from Europe, North America, Asia, and the Middle East and covering a period of 1,500 years, from about A.D. 400 to 1900. (Armor and weapons from the ancient world are housed in the departments of Egyptian Art, Greek and Roman Art, and Ancient Near Eastern Art.) The collection is overseen by the Department of Arms and Armor, the only specialized curatorial department of its kind in an American museum and one of the few in the world. This autumn the department celebrates its centennial, a historic moment that provides the occasion for this Bulletin, which tells the story of the creation and growth of the department and the acquisition of stellar objects of artistic merit and historical importance.

When the Department of Arms and Armor was created by the Museum's Trustees on October 28, 1912, it was due mainly to the talent, scholarship, and tireless drive of Dr. Bashford Dean. Between 1904 and 1912 Dean progressed from guest curator, to honorary curator, to head of the newly created department, and by the time of his premature death in 1928 he had built the Museum's collection into one of international importance. In the process he designed helmets and body armor for U.S. troops in World War I, fostered an influential group of private collectors, established American scholarship on historical arms and armor, and laid the foundation for what is today one of the most comprehensive assemblages of arms and armor in the world. Also to celebrate its centennial, the department has organized "Bashford Dean and the Creation of the Arms and Armor Department," a yearlong exhibition opening in October 2012 that will survey Dean's groundbreaking work. Of Arms and Men provides an opportunity to look more deeply at one of the Metropolitan's oldest and most distinctive departments.

Crossbow of Count Ulrich V of Württemberg (1413–1480), Heinrich Heid von Winterthur  probably Swiss, Wood (European hornbeam), horn, animal sinew, staghorn, birch bark, iron alloy, copper alloy, pigment, German, probably Stuttgart
Heinrich Heid von Winterthur
dated 1460
Foot-Combat Helm of Sir Giles Capel (1485–1556), Steel, possibly British
possibly British
ca. 1510
Buffe, Steel, gold, French
ca. 1550
Burgonet, Steel, gold, French
ca. 1550
Cosimo II de' Medici (1590–1621), Grand Duke of Tuscany, Justus Sustermans  Flemish, Oil on canvas, transferred from wood, Flemish
Justus Sustermans
Turban Helmet, Steel, iron, silver, Turkish or Iranian
Turkish or Iranian
1478–ca. 1490
Armor (Gusoku), Iron, leather, lacquer, silk, copper alloy, Japanese
19th century
Armor (<i>Yoroi</i>) of Ashikaga Takauji (1305–1358), Iron, leather, lacquer, silk, copper, gold, pigments, Japanese
early–mid-14th century
Armor of Sir James Scudamore (1558–1619), Jacob Halder  British, Steel, gold, leather, British, Greenwich
Jacob Halder
Daniel Tachaux
ca. 1595–96; restored and completed, 1915
Breastplate, Giovan Paolo Negroli  Italian, Steel, gold, Italian, Milan
Giovan Paolo Negroli
ca. 1540–45
Double-Barreled Wheellock Pistol Made for Emperor Charles V (reigned 1519–56), Peter Peck  German, Steel, gold, wood (cherry), staghorn, German, Munich
Peter Peck
Ambrosius Gemlich
ca. 1540–45
Partisan Carried by the Bodyguard of Louis XIV (1638–1715, reigned from 1643), Jean Berain  French, Steel, gold, wood, textile, French, Paris
Jean Berain
ca. 1679
Burgonet, Filippo Negroli  Italian, Steel, gold, textile, Italian, Milan
Filippo Negroli
dated 1543
Armor Garniture, Probably of King Henry VIII of England (reigned 1509–47), Hans Holbein the Younger  German, Steel, gold, leather, copper alloys, British, Greenwich
Hans Holbein the Younger
Royal Workshops at Greenwich
dated 1527
Jousting Sallet (<i>Rennhut</i>) Made for Louis II (1506–1526), King of Hungary and Bohemia, Kolman Helmschmid  German, Steel, copper alloy, gold, German, Augsburg
Kolman Helmschmid
ca. 1525
Sallet in the Shape of a Lion's Head, Steel, copper, gold, glass, pigment, textile, Italian
ca. 1475–80
Armor for Heavy Cavalry, Steel, gold, leather, textile, French
ca. 1600
Foot-Combat Armor of Prince-Elector
 Christian I of Saxony (reigned 1586–91), Anton Peffenhauser  German, Steel, gold, leather, copper alloy, German, Augsburg
Anton Peffenhauser
Jörg Sorg the Younger
Armor for Man and Horse Presumably Made for Baron Pankraz von Freyberg (1508–1565), Wolfgang Grosschedel  German, Steel; leather, copper alloy, textile, German, Landshut
Wolfgang Grosschedel
man's armor, ca. 1535–40; horse armor, dated 1554; saddle steels, later restorations
Close Helmet, Giovan Paolo Negroli  Italian, Steel, copper alloy, gold, Italian, Milan
Giovan Paolo Negroli
ca. 1540–45
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