Good cod! The “Fashion in Steel” exhibition hopes to dispel myths about medieval armor

Some may know that knights in armor used upside down leg loops to lure women to parties, but a new display of medieval clothing shows that the fashion has also been adopted by bold, flowing noblewomen to show their power.

The “Iron Men – Fashion in Steel” exhibition, which runs until June 26 at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria, features 170 artifacts that shed new light on this complex theme, along with selected paintings, textiles and sculptures.

Men liked exaggerated leg straps because they felt more masculine, brave, and manly during public events, such as tournaments, and at court, according to the museum.

The museum has assembled codpieces from all over the world: historical Habsburg armor from the Austrian collections, as well as pieces from London and New York.

Wilhelm von Rogendorf armor
Armor for Wilhelm von Rogendorf (1481–1541) in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. Contrary to its popular image of clunky and bulky, the armor is so well made that the wearer can do somersaults inside it.
KHM-Museumsverband / Zenger

The exhibition shows both the fashionable aspect of the armor and its use as a disguise.

“During the carnival there were often tournaments and many participants wore fantastic masked armor, symbolic costumes that allowed the wearer to take on a role, while showing their skills and courage in front of a large audience,” explained the museum.

“For these rides, gunsmiths produced visors in the shape of a man’s or an animal’s head, or with grotesque mythological faces.”

Exhibition of the Kunsthistorisches Museum
An exhibit from the Kunsthistorisches Museum exhibition, highlighting the fashionable aspects of armor.
KHM-Museumsverband / Zenger

The exhibition video demonstrates that the armor is so well made that the wearer can do somersaults with it.

Also included is a rather awkward looking piece, a steel corset from the Wallace Collection in London, England, which was made by Eleonora di Toledo, Duchess of Florence, with two cutouts to fit the wearer’s breasts through.

The exhibition hopes to dispel contemporary myths and stereotypes seen in Hollywood films of the “medieval warrior who is both brave and virile but also immobile and clumsy, encased in heavy steel armor apparently designed exclusively for combat, both on the battlefield. than in tournaments, a sport that seems wild and martial to a modern spectator. “

Instead, the museum, in a statement, explains that these misconceptions are largely the product of 19th-century visions and contemporary films, from “Ivanhoe” to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” to “The Lord of the Rings” and “Game of thrones”.

The museum’s “Iron Men – Fashion in Steel” exhibition explores “the leading role played by armor in early modern society, art and culture”, illustrating “its importance as a political and dynastic symbol, as diplomatic gift, personal and historical souvenir and, last but not least, as fashionable steel clothing and a fantastic symbolic disguise, beyond religious, ideological and gender boundaries “.

While the museum stated that Renaissance armor was primarily a form of protective clothing worn on the battlefield and during a tournament, the impressive attire played a central role in the life of a noble.

Armor of Emperor Maximilian II
Armor with a special genital brazier area made up of pieces of a garnish made for Emperor Maximilian II (1527–1576) at the “Iron Man – Fashion in Steel” exhibition.
KHM-Museumsverband / Zenger

Gunsmiths such as Lorenz Helmschmid in Augusta, Germany, and Filippo Negroli in Milan, Italy, were well-paid specialists who created exceptional and unique works of art. The museum said that each piece reflects “the aesthetic preferences of the period in which it was produced”.

The stylish side of the armor, including the puffed sleeves, mimicked the lansquenets, southern German mercenary troops.

The museum also says that “the nobles often wore various disguises, including dressing in women’s clothing, to attend the costumed balls that were held in the evening.”

But the museum explains that “disguise was part of the knightly culture of the Renaissance. Our knight in shining armor was not only brave and strong, he was also fashionably dressed and sometimes even slightly fluid.”

Armor of Emperor Charles V
A lion-headed Burgundian made for Emperor Charles V (1500–1558) at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
KHM-Museumsverband / Zenger

And wearing armor wasn’t just something for men, women wore it too.

The museum said, “Largely a piece of men’s clothing, armor was closely connected with the construction and display of masculinity. Wearing armor was considered a male domain and celebrated in early modern cavalry. But Literary and historical documents tell of women wearing armor and participating in battles, which have contrasted contemporary expectations about gender-specific female behavior. “

The museum also debunks another myth, arguing that “armor, or to be exact, plate armor that completely envelops the wearer’s body, is not a medieval phenomenon, but dates back to the early modern era”.

The first fully functional armors were produced in northern Italy in the early 15th century and reached their peak over the next two centuries. Between the beginning of the 15th and the first half of the 17th centuries, full armor was devised to successfully repel spears and swords. They were used as protection against infantry weapons, including pikes, arrows, and crossbows.

But changes in warfare, such as the development of firearms and cannons, played an important role in the demise of armor as a military protective clothing.

Guidobaldo della Rovere armor
The Roman-style armor for Guidobaldo della Rovere (1514–1574) at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna illustrates the various styles of design, depending on the period and country.
National Heritage, Royal Armory / Zenger

The museum explained that, despite the armor weighing 44 to 66 pounds, the weight was distributed throughout the body. Protective clothing was designed to ensure that the wearer could move with ease. Otherwise clumsy and immobile armored men would have faced each other on the battlefields of Europe during the 15th and 16th centuries.

To ensure this flexibility, the plate armor comprises numerous individual pieces, often up to 200. This meant that walking, running and jumping were no problem.

The masterpieces of the Imperial Armory of Vienna, the most important collection of its kind in the world, form the heart of the exhibition.

Also on display are loans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Real Armeria in Madrid, the Wallace Collection in London and the Ronald S. Lauder Collection. Some of these artifacts have never been shown outside of their home collections and have been extensively restored for the exhibition.

There are also major loans of paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden, loans from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Albertina and Wien Museum in Vienna and the Ambras Castle in Innsbruck, as well as fragile artifacts, rarely exhibited and recently restored from the possessions of the Imperial Armory.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

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