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Buy art object A GERMAN TOURNAMENT HELMET, PROBABLY AUGSBURG, circa 1580 for sale at Peter Finer. Ask price and more information on the expert advice Peter Finer


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Height: 36 cm / 14.2 in Width: 24 cm / 9.5 in Height with mount: 50 cm / 19.7 in

Of plain steel, designed to fit over the rim of a gorget; the one-piece skull with a high, file-roped comb and a boxed and file-roped turn at the neck, pierced with holes at the rear and retaining rivets around the neck for the securing of a lining; a replacement plume holder with cusped side bars fixed centrally at the base of the comb; on the sides of the brow the skull indented where fixing screws have come though the visor, the visor having a lateral sight with a medial bar strengthened during its working life and on either side above the vision slit a threaded fixing hole; the visor extending over the face in one piece, with a straight, almost vertical, prow and pierced on either side with ventilation holes, below which, on the right side, is a threaded hole to take the now missing lifting peg; the bevor with a boxed and file-roped turn at the neck to match the skull to which it is secured by a sprung, pierced peg and pivoting hook on the right of the neck; forward of this on the bevor and visor are the holes for the missing sprung catch that secured them together; the visor and bevor pivot together on the sides of the skull and are secured by a pin that passes through a pierced peg and rests in a groove in the flattened top of a domed washer, notched for ease of removal at right angles to the pin groove.

The tournament developed in Europe in the early Middle Ages as a practice for cavalry warfare. The aristocratic and knightly classes who traditionally fought in armour on horses needed to hone their skills and they did this both by hunting dangerous game and by taking part in sporting martial combats. According to Ramon Lull in his Book of Knighthood of about 1270 it was by these means that ‘the knights exercise themselves to arms, and thus maintain the order of knighthood'. At first, tournaments were fought in exactly the same armour and using exactly the same weapons as were used on the field of battle but by the thirteenth century special forms of protection and special weapons began to be used for these sporting contests. Tournaments were, inevitably, dangerous and gradually more effort was made to make them safer and to cut down the incidence of death and serious injury. In the later Middle Ages this trend manifested itself by the increasing regulation of tournaments, by the development of specialised forms of sporting combat and by the linked development of highly specialised arms and armour for tournament use. Gradually, too, warfare was changing. Increasingly, the heavily armoured knights fought on foot as often as on horseback; larger numbers of infantry armed with projectile weapons came to dominate the battlefields of Europe. As these changes occurred so the military necessity for tournaments as practice for war diminished and they came to be seen far more as simply contests of skill and, eventually, as court and civic entertainment.

By the later sixteenth century warfare and society had changed so much that the tournament was in sharp decline, although this was not immediately apparent since the tournaments of this time were often the centrepieces of great court masques and dramatic and musical extravaganzas to celebrate the victories, progresses and marriages of European monarchs and their high nobilities. Nonetheless, for all their rules and special equipment, these later tournaments remained very dangerous events, as the death of Henri II of France in 1550 reminded everyone. It was a happy family occasion. The king was jousting to celebrate his daughter's wedding but a lance splinter went through his visor and he died of the wound ten days later. So, perhaps as a result of such reminders of the dangers involved, it was in its declining years that the tournament developed into the greatest number of specialist and highly controlled contests and that the greatest number of specialist defences was created for those participating. Throughout the sixteenth century, despite its increasing irrelevance for warfare, there remained sufficient aristocratic interest in the tournament throughout Europe, including in the German-speaking lands, for special forms of armour like our helmet to be made.

Our helmet has the more vertical prow to the visor that became common from about 1570 onwards. It belongs to a group of south German tourney armours of a type made in both Augsburg and Landshut and probably also elsewhere. It has ventilation holes on both sides of the visor, a feature associated with tournament and foot-combat head defences, whereas on helmets for the various forms of joust they normally appear only on the right side – less vulnerable during tournament combat. Our helmet is also unusual in having threaded fixing holes above the sights for fixing a brow reinforce. This feature is also found on some other south German tournament helmets: a helmet of about 1560 by Wolfgang Großschedel of Landshut in the Stadt und Kreismuseum, Landshut (no. 1433), and a close helmet attributed to Anton Peffenhauser of Augsburg for the Freiturnier, part of a double garniture for Archduke Matthias and Archduke Maximilian III that dates to about 1575 and is now in the Wallace Collection, London (no. A187). Also of interest is the grandguard of an armour for the Italian joust (Welschgestech) made in 1588 by Anton Peffenhauser of Augsburg for Elector Christian I of Saxony (1560–91) and now in the Historisches Museum, Dresden (no. M 27).

The tourney, or Freiturnier, developed from the early medieval mock battles that often involved large groups of opponents ranging over wide areas of countryside. Gradually, however, these combats became more constrained and regulated, usually restricted to special tournament yards or fields. Even so, ordinary field armours were often used for tourneys until well into the sixteenth century, though special protections were developed in the fifteenth century for specialised forms of the tourney such as the Kolbenturnier. From the beginning of the second decade of the sixteenth century at the latest, however, field armours were frequently reinforced for use in the tourney and soon special armours came to be made for it. The ability to attach a brow reinforce to our helmet may suggest that it was made with more than one use in mind and that, with suitable additional protection, it might also be able to serve as a jousting helmet.

Mann, Sir J., Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour, (London, 1962), vol.1 pp. 149–50, pl. 72
Norman, A.V. B., Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour Supplement, (London, 1986), pp. 69–70
Price B. R.(transl. and ed.), Ramon Lull's Book of Knighthood and Chivalry, (Highland Village, Texas 2001), p. 30
Rangström, L. (ed.), Riddarlek och Tornerspiel, (Stockholm, 1992), pp. 60–1, no. 23
Spitzlberger, G., Landshuter Plattnerkunst, (Landshut, 1975), pp. 28–9, pl. 48