The late 16th century armour featuring embossed and chased decoration, described as ‘probably Brunswick’, took £86,000 (£107,500 including premium) against an estimate of £20,000-30,000 at the latest auction by Thomas Del Mar on December 8.
Del Mar, whose saleroom is part of Olympia Auctions, said: “This remarkable piece of parade armour had considerable appeal within the broader field of art history as well as the traditional arms and armour field. It attracted very competitive bidding from a number of phones as well as the internet.”
The wonderfully ornate breastplate and backplate decoration includes panels of classical ornament, involving the allegorical figures of the Cardinal virtues comprising Prudence, Justice, Fortitude (as the figure of Hercules with the pillars) and Temperance, David facing Goliath and various warriors and female figures amid scrolling foliage.
Provenanced to an institutional collection, it was previously sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1986.
The use of brass in the manufacture of arms and armour in Brunswick and nearby Wolfenbûttel is well documented in the reign of Julius, Duke of Brunswick- Wolfenbûttel (1528-90), though very little, if any, has been offered for sale in the last century.
Records show in the 1570s various orders were made to Brunswick armourers, such as Landsknecht armours of brass for mounted use and 55 brass armours equipped with matching burgonets and morions. Several guns and pistols of c.1575-85 bearing the monograms and devices of Duke Julius, also have their stocks of sheet-brass embossed with decoration of the same character as that found on this cuirass.
Del Mar noted: “Of particular significance is a circular shield or target in the Royal Armouries, Leeds, bearing the date 1579.” The decoration of the two pieces is “strikingly similar both in regard to design and execution, with the labours of Hercules and his pillars featuring in both”.
The Art Institute of Chicago owns a sizeable collection of arms and armour. In 2018 it unveiled the new Deering Family Galleries of Medieval and Renaissance Art, Arms and Armor, presenting nearly 700 objects from the museum’s “rich holdings of art from 1200-1600 including its beloved arms and armour collection”.
In Del Mar’s auction of June 30, another US institution – Philadelphia Museum of Art – bought a south German etched gilt and embossed closed burgonet, c.1555-60, for £96,000 to be reunited with its garniture (set of armour).