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Renaissance Armor

The Renaissance armor evolved from the so-called Gothic style, a distinct and graceful armor style appearing around 1440. The cuirass was generally made of two pieces, for freedom of movement, with the later form of Gothic breastplate made longer.

Renaissance Armor - Henry VIII
Engraved Armor given to Henry VIII by Emperor Maximilian

A representative armor of the Renaissance period was the "Maximilian". The Maximilian Period lasted from about 1500 to 1540. The breastplate of this type of armor had radiating channels in a design resembling the scallop shell. The breastplate was shorter then its predecessor, and made of only one piece. The channels (fluting) of the breastplate were giving increased strength and rigidity, without adding too much weight.

Renaissance Armor - Maximilian
Renaissance Armor Maximilian Period

Not all models of the Renaissance armor had the channels. Many models had a plain surface, and they continued to be used long after the Maximilian style period. The Renaissance artists found that the plain surfaces were excellent fields for decorations, which the strongly marked flutings of the Maximilian armor could not offer. The decoration consisted of engraved borders, or, if covering the entire surface, the armor was lightly engraved.

A fine example of engraved Renaissance armor is the work of the famous Master Armourer Seusenhofer. It was ordered by Emperor Maximilian for King Henry VIII. The ornament is lightly engraved, and depicts the legends of St. George and St. Barbara. The lower part of the body is protected by folded steel bases imitating the skirts of civilian dress. The bases were originally the cloth skirts in vogue in civilian dress at the time of Henry VIII, and when armour followed civilian fashion, it borrowed their name.

In battle or when jousting, the mounted knight presented to the opponent his left side. The right arm was required to be as mobile as possible, so a too heavy defence on this side was not desired. The left arm, being on the exposed side, and held at rest at the bridle, could in turn have a very heavy defence, leading to an asymmetrical armor construction. On his bridle hand, the rider was wearing the manifer (from the French main-de-fer), a rigid iron gauntlet, as no sudden movements of the wrist or fingers were needed.

Renaissance Jousting Armor

The Renaissance armor used for jousting makes the difference between sides even more noticeable. Especially during the 16th century, jousting was a sport, and the contestants had to score points, not to injure each other. Reinforcing plates were screwed on to the left side of the tilting suit to offer a stronger defence and to present additional glancing surface to the lance-point.

Renaissance Armor for fighting on foot

Renaissance Armor - Tonlet Suit
Tonlet Suit

A typical model of this class was the Tonlet suit, used exclusively for fighting on foot. It had a bell shaped skirt of plate, constructed in such a manner that it could be pulled up and down. The plate skirt presented a glancing surface to weapons like axes and swords, and protected the legs.

Excessive ornament and metal work heralded the decline of the Renaissance armor. The engraved and inlaid suits of the late 16th and 17th centuries were still paying attention to the armor main defence law, that of offering the glancing surface to the attacking weapon.

However, heavily embossed suits appeared, meant only for personal display, and to show the talent of the craftsman. No consideration was given to the defining principle of the glancing surface, and from that moment we may say that the true purpose and character of the Renaissance armor was lost.

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