Breastplate from a siege cuirass

167.1

As firearms improved, armor struggled to keep up. This extremely heavy breastplate was designed for siege use. The thick iron provided excellent protection against bullets in the trench warfare of a siege, but it was too heavy for a soldier marching around on a battlefield.

The broad, shallow indentation over the heart is probably a “proof mark.” The manufacturer fired a musket at the breastplate to prove it could resist a bullet. The additional bullet marks on the surface show that this armor saved its owner’s life more than once.

Description

Of heavy, black-painted proof steel. It is of vestigal peascod form, with deep curved arms & neck openings having plain turns, & followed by a row of large domed rivets. Low full-length medial ridge, framed by double band of incised lines. A similar set extends from the arms to the waistline. Basal flange dips to the fork, with turned edge & incised lines as above, the band filled by domed rivets. Several plugged holes suggest the locations of posts or mounts for a plackart. At least eight bullet dents. Domed studs on chest for shoulder straps. At the midpoint there is a patched repair in the back, of very thick metal, almost certainly a working-life fix. Traces of the damage can be seen on the front, which was probably hammered back into shape as part of the repair.

Curator's Comments

HAM 796 was the original choice to go on display as an example of proofed armor, probably because it had a clearer proofmark. These components were made for an extremely large man, quite possibly Christoph I Nikolaus von Radziwill (1547-1603), Grand Marshall of Lithuania. He was nicknamed 'Thunderbolt of War' and the "Lithuanian Hercules." Cf. HAM 606. An anime breastplate attributed to Radziwill is in the von Kienbusch Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (#197-167-158). A three-quarter armor also attributed to him, with anime breast and a close-helmet, is in the Muzeum Wojska Polskiego at Warsaw.

Publication & Exhibit History

Von Kienbusch (same as above) , p. 86, # 86, # 126; plt. LXII. Bochenski, Zbigniew. "Proba Okreslenia Genezy Polskiej Zbroi Husarskiej," Muzealnictwo Wojskowe. II (1964): 141-166.

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