Renaissance Aesthetics at its Finest: The Exquisite Parade Armor of Henry II of France
The crowded, dusty square was full of excitement. Even the heat and the cramped space served as no deterrent to the people who continued trying to push their way into the already full meeting place. What was everyone looking at? It did not take long to discern where all eyes were turned, with hands grasping, and bodies pushing to get closer to the shining, majestic presence sitting atop the mighty steed – the king in his celebrated parade armor.
The Parade Armor of Henry II of France is a suit of armor that once belonged to the French monarch, Henry II. It should be mentioned here that the parade armor referred to in this article is the one on display today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. This suit of armor is believed to date to the middle of the 16th century. During that time, Europe was going through the Renaissance, which is today remembered for its cultural and artistic achievements. This artistic flourishing can also be seen in the production of elaborately decorated suits of armor. This type of body armor, known as parade armor, is perhaps a less well-known instance of the artistic feats achieved during the Renaissance. The one belonging to Henry II is a good example of this type of body armor.
Parade armor of Henry II of France. ( Public Domain )
The French King En Vogue with Latest Trends in Armor
Henry II was the son of the French king, Francis I, and ruled over France between 1547 and 1559. Henry was a patron of Renaissance culture and was a lover of the arts. Amongst other things, the king continued the reconstruction of the Louvre, which was initiated by his father, and he appreciated literature, especially poetry. In addition, he is said to have been dressed in the latest fashion wherever he appeared.
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Henry II, King of France. ( Public Domain ) He always liked to be dressed in the latest fashion.
The effort made by the king to keep up with the latest trends may also be seen in the armors that he used. During the 16th century, armors were no longer just suits that protected their wearers on the battlefield, but were transformed into exquisite works of art. Such pieces of armor were being produced in various parts of Europe. Nevertheless, the artistic height of elaborate armor was achieved in Italy between the 1530s and the 1560s. The most celebrated armorer of this period was Filippo Neroli, who had his workshop in Milan. The Nerolis produced exquisite armor for their clients, which included some of the biggest names in the European nobility at that time. One of their armors was owned by Henry II of France, and is today in the possession of a private collector.
The French Armorer Behind the Elaborate Suit
The parade armor owned by the Metropolitan Museum, on the other hand, was created by a Frenchman by the name of Étienne Delaine. There are about 20 sketches from the 16th century, which supports the claim that the armor was created by Delaine. Later additions to the original design are attributed to Jean Cousin the Elder and Baptiste Pellarin. Delaine was, for a period, the king’s chief medalist at the royal mint. Although he was dismissed from this post, Delaine continued to work for the king. One of his more fantastic creations was this suit of armor, which is believed to have been made between 1553 and 1555.
Parade Armor of Henry II of France, Museum of Ethnology, Vienna. (PerfectZero/ CC BY 2.0 )
Motifs Covering the Armor
The parade armor that Delaine created for Henry contains images of humans as well as figures from Classical mythology. On the shoulders, for example, the Greek god Apollo can be seen chasing the nymph Daphne. The same god makes an appearance on the back of the armor, though he is shown slaying the monster Python. At the center of the breastplate, there is a figure of a Roman warrior receiving a tribute of arms from a group of kneeling women. Overall, the parade armor is supposed to reflect Henry’s military achievements.
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Detail of a Roman warrior on the breastplate. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )
In 1939, the Metropolitan Museum acquired this suit of armor with the help of the Harris Brisbane Dick Fund. It is commonly believed that this armor is the most elaborate of its kind that was produced in France. The significance of this parade armor is enhanced by the fact that not many of this style have survived till today. In some collections, only parts of the armor are displayed. As few full suits remain, the Parade Armor of Henry II of France is a unique piece that showcases the artistic skills of the 16th century armorers.
Top image: Two views of the Parade Armor of Henry II of France. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
By Wu Mingren
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