A German Cuirass Decorated in the Style of Daniel Hopfer of Augsburg Dated 1523
Augsburg was perhaps the most famous South German centre of Renaissance armour-making. Its reputation as the home of masters of the armourer’s stretches back to the middle of the 15th century. The rise of Augsburg as a great armour-making city was closely linked to the fortunes of the Helmschmid family of armourers, several of whose members rank among the greatest virtuoso armourers of all time.
From the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Helmschmids worked in close collaboration with Daniel Hopfer, perhaps the most cunning and skilful etcher of the German Renaissance. Hopfer’s etching style became closely associated with the hammer-work of Kolman Helmschmid (1471-1532), court armourer to the Emperor Charles V (1500-58). For this reason armour thought to be etched by Hopfer has in the past been assumed to have been made by the Helmschmids. This very fine body armour or cuirass is a fascinating example of one such assumption.
Beautifully sculpted in the heavily fluted ‘Maximilian’ style, this armour certainly could have belonged to a rich nobleman. The straight flutes shooting across the main surfaces have been grouped into sets of three. This arrangement produces slightly wider areas between the fluting sets, a perfect opportunity for very dense and superbly executed acid-etched decorations, containing birds, grotesques, musical instruments, and scrolling flowers and foliage.
The etching style is easily recognisable as Daniel Hopfer’s. However while the motifs are clearly his, most characteristically the winged, female-headed caryatids at the top of the breastplate, the artistic ‘handwriting’ is not; the figures are proportionately larger than Hopfer’s own ever were, and the acid has been used to eat away the metal (or ‘bite’) to a greater depth. This is instead the work of an extremely talented follower working in Hopfer’s style. He has even dated the work in Hopfer’s signature manner, with the year number ‘XXIII’ contained within a small cartouche in a discreet location. This piece shows in glorious detail how the accomplishments of a great master could exert a powerful influence on his contemporaries.
Monday the 2nd and Thursday the 26th of September at 1pm: Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour.
Mann, Sir James, Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms and Armour (London: The Wallace Collection, 1962), pp. 159-160, pls. 49, 74.
© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2013; text by Tobias Capwell