Prince Elector Christian I of Saxony (1560 - 1591);
Rüstkammer, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden;
Private Collection, France.
This buffe, a detachable reinforce for a helmet, belongs to one of the most extensive and best-preserved garnitures of sixteenth century armour by Anton Peffenhauser. Likely intended for use in the ‘free tourney’, a mock combat in which a pair, or larger groups of armoured horsemen first ran at each other with lances, then resumed the contest with swords, it appears to have complemented a helmet preserved in the Rüstkammer (armoury) of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden. The buffe is one of very few elements of this garniture no longer in the museum in Dresden.
The buffe was designed to fit against the upper and lower bevors of a close helmet and was designed to ‘reinforce’ the helmet by providing added protection. The buffe alone is a strikingly sculptural object that echoes the curves of the face like a mask. The highly polished steel surface is adorned with etched and gilt bands of ornamentation. These bands enclose gilded trophies of arms, connected to one another by gilded ribbons tied into knots. The band that extends down the centre of the plates is bordered by a Moresque pattern. The head of a lion decorates the upper corner of the buffe and this symbol of strength repeats throughout the garniture in the museum in Dresden; for example, that armour’s pauldrons and poleyns each show the head of a lion, as do the toecaps of the sabatons.
The armour dates from the beginning of his rule and comprises elements for man and horse, including a complete bard. The majority of this garniture is preserved today in the Rustkammer of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden (no. M 99). It is the largest and best-preserved example in the Dresden collections, and is one of the most complete specimens of the Augsburg school. The garniture is of considerable importance; in fact, it occupies a special place among the many Augsburg armours in the Dresden collections, which have been traditionally, and somewhat liberally, attributed to the famed armourer Anton Peffenhauser. This armour of Christian I in Dresden remains one of the very few, and perhaps the only armour, that is a documented work by Peffenhauser.
In the 1606 inventory of the Electoral Saxon armouries (unpublished, the document is today in the archives of the Rustkammer), the garniture is notably recorded as having been geschlagen (literally ‘hammered’) by Anton Peffenhauser, while other armours listed in the armoury are described as only having been ‘purchased’ from Peffenhauser, or simply ‘acquired’ in Augsburg. Consequently, while there is no record of how the buffe became separated from the remaining garniture of Christian I’s armour, this buffe may be unquestionably ascribed to the hand of Anton Peffenhauser, one of the greatest armourers of all time.
Evidence suggests that this buffe left the Electoral Saxon armouries well before the twentieth century: the buffe does not appear in the dispersal sales of the Dresden collections in the twentieth century, nor is it recorded in the list of pieces lost as a result of the Second World War. There is evidence that certain elements of the garniture exited the Dresden collections prior to the twentieth century: a bevor and targe for the tilt in the Italian fashion that also belong to Christian I’s garniture of armour in Dresden are today in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence (no. R 24). These two pieces were acquired by the diplomat and collector Constantino Ressman, and bequeathed by him to the Bargello in 1894.
Aside from the two pieces in Florence, a vamplate from this same garniture – a defence for the hand on a lance – is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was bequeathed by the great collector Carl Otto von Kienbusch in 1977.
The Christian I garniture in the Rustkammer comprises two helmets, one intended for the tilt and designed to rotate around the upper rim of the gorget, and the other constructed with neck lames at the front and back, called a Mantelhelm, that was intended for the field and the ‘free tourney’. The buffe under present discussion was almost certainly made for the latter helmet. The circular hole on its right side, made to accommodate a bolt, aligns exactly with a corresponding hole on the Mantelhelm’s upper bevor. The buffe is shaped the same as the Mantelhelm’s lower-bevor, essential for its fit, but equally important perhaps, the buffe does not swell over the neckline nor follow the contours of the embossed lower edge of the garniture’s other close helmet for the tilt. Therefore it seems likely that this buffe complemented the Mantelhelm specifically and was likely intended as a reinforce for the free tourney. Perhaps because this type of reinforce was very likely to become seriously damaged, the garniture of Christian I ostensibly included more than one; a buffe of comparable construction and decoration is indeed included among the elements of the garniture which are preserved today in the Dresden Rustkammer.
The more remarkable for its untouched state of preservation, this buffe is also one of the few works outside of institutional collections which may be securely ascribed to Anton Peffenhauser. Moreover, this important element of a luxury armour garniture was made for a princely patron of particular historical significance, and one whose identifiable ownership is verified by the documentation of the Electoral Saxon inventories.
Designed to fit closely against the upper and lower bevors of a close helmet, this reinforcing buffe is constructed of three plates. The upper plate is modelled to overlap the entire left side of the helmet’s bevors, and slightly embossed at the end of its left shank to overlap the protruding head of nut of the bolt that secured the bevors to the bowl. At the right side it is tailored to cover only the very front portion of the bevors, and slightly embossed near the rear edge to accommodate the device that locked the bevors together. At the upper right side, towards the front, it has a circular hole to be secured to the helmet’s upper bevor by a bolt. Small circular holes at the rear upper sides might have served the purpose of ensuring that the upper plate would neatly fit in place against the helmet’s upper bevor while it was still being forged. Along the lower edge the upper plate is flanged outward to receive two neck lames, which protect the entire left side and only the front portion of the right side of the wearer’s throat. These lames are secured to the upper plate and to one another by rivets down the left side, and by internal leather straps down the centre and right sides. The bottom plate has an inward file-roped turn along the lower edge, which is bordered by a row of rivets that secure an internal leather strap to which a lining was presumably sewn. The rivets have domed brass-capped heads and appear to be original.
The polished bright exterior surface is adorned with etched and partly gilded and blackened bands of ornament down the centre and the right edge of the upper plate and neck lames, and along the lower edge of the bottom neck lame. The bands enclose gilded trophies of arms that are connected to one another by gilded ribbons tied into series of knots, and that are set against a blackened dotted ground. The band that extends down the centre of the plates is bordered at either side by a gilded narrow band of Moresque ornament.