Late German Gothic Armour of the Archduke Sigmund (1427-96)
Finding 15th century homogeneous suits of German armour certainly isn't an easy task. Nearly every displayed harness is a composite, comprising of various pieces of similar styling.
One nearly complete example found in the Historisches Museum, Vienna, unfortunately lacking its helmet and vambraces, dates from the decade beginning 1450. Otherwise only individual parts, particularly helmets, from complete knightly armours have been handed down from the beginning of the German late gothic period in the late 15th century.
Shown here is a most excellently preserved early German cuirass, as the complete armour was called. It is undoubtedly that of the Archduke Sigmund. Maximillian I (1459-1519) probably used it himself when he was a young prince and presumably presented it to his uncle Sigmund, who succeeded him in 1490 as Lord of the Tyrol, part of the Hapsburg Empire.
In 1484 Duke Sigmund of Tyrol (1427-1496) married Katherina of Saxony. The bridegroom received this cuirass made by Lorenz Helmschmid as an Imperial gift for the occasion. Augsburg had become a center for the manufacture of ceremonial armour, and Helmschmid was the preferred armourer of the Emperors Frederick III and Maximilian I, the self-styled "Last of the Knights".
This German armour clearly differs from the Milanese armour, presented above. Following Burgundian fashion, the proportions are slender with an extenuated narrow waist and are characterized by pointed shapes and fluted parallel lines. The sallet, a form of helmet, protects the head. The bright surfaces are edged with gilded ornamental bands patterned with lilies. This work, defined by the rippling of angular lines and sharp ridges, reveals the German's special talent for line and the graphic, contrasting the Italian armourer's preference for large and simple sculptured forms.
The armour possesses marked flexibility and did not unduly burden the prince, a man of small stature. It weighed only the usual forty pounds or so, which were fairly evenly distributed over the entire body. A hinged lance rest facilitated the rider's handling of the long equestrian lance. The bizarre pointed sabatons had their origin in a peculiar whim of fashion of the period. As they were only meant to be worn on horseback, the points could be removed when the rider wished to go on foot.