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IRON MEN. Fashion in Steel

Category: Exhibition 23. April 2022

First, the exhibits and written explanations reveal how much common notions of armour and knights are actually based on fictions of later eras, such as 19th-century literature and paintings or 20th-century chivalry movies and comics.

The roles of armour, body armour, as implements of war and protective clothing recede into the background here; the armour on display was in no way used for combat, as even the children's and women's armour and funeral helmets on display suggest. The armour is rather understood as luxurious body clothing that was worn on representative occasions.

It also becomes clear in the Kunsthistorisches Museum show that the heavy body armour we associate with knights is not a phenomenon of the Middle Ages, but of the Renaissance.

Among the 177 objects on display on the second floor of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, dating from the late 15th to the early 17th centuries, are valuable loans from around the world, some of which have left their respective collections for the first time.

The Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, opened as a museum in 1889, feeds on holdings from the Belvedere of Prince Eugene, the palaces of Laxenburg and Ambras, and the Arsenal. In "Fashion in Steel," it is expanded with loans from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Dresden State Art Collection, London's Wallace Collection, and also the private collection of entrepreneur Ronald S. Lauder. A magnificent suit of armour from 1546 with muscled armour and shoulder pieces made of masks comes from the Patrimonio Nacional in Madrid.

The demanding work of the armorers, is shown in display panels based on individual steps of metalworking and impresses with its diversity.

A particularly characteristic exhibit is the costume armour of Wilhelm Freiherr von Roggendorf, created by Kolman Helmschmid in Augsburg. Attached to a 1.90 m tall mannequin, the costume armor features puffed sleeves and slits in the manner of the Landsknechte, pikemen - German mercenaries who were fashion trendsetters at the time.
Kolman Helmschmid or Konrad Seusenhofer from Innsbruck were among the best paid masters of their trade at the time, and their armour fetched top prices that were only affordable for the high nobility.

Like their textile counterparts, armour was also subject to fashion trends, which is also evident in the example of footwear: While at the end of the 15th century long, pointed beak shoes were still en vogue, a few decades later one sees only the wide so-called cow-mouth shoes.

Part of the exhibition is devoted to the "all'antica" fashion, the stylization of armour based on antique models, which was current in noble houses in the 16th century. The influence of Ottoman stylistic elements on armor design can also be traced in the show.

The exhibition also deals with practical questions, such as how such a suit of armour is made or worn and how mobile one actually is in a suit of armour weighing over 30 kg, including heavy undergarments - a film by historian Daniel Jaquet is well worth seeing and provides some surprising insights. (Text written by Cem Angeli)

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