Here we go through the square
And we enter at last
To a big beautiful red house
Similar to a palace.
Sergey Mikhalkov. In the museum of V. I. Lenin
Military museums in Europe. Today we will get acquainted with the exhibits of the Vienna Imperial Arsenal. Its very building, the Hovburg Palace, is just a real palace, although the colors are gray, not red. However, the Ilyichevsk Museum does not hold a candle to the Hovburg, let alone the value of its collections, and also their volume, it knows no equal. The Knights' Hall of the Hermitage, in comparison with its halls, is just something like a regional museum of local lore, nothing more. And there is no exaggeration here. Four horsemen and here is such a "wall" of them, as in the photo below. But this is just one of 12 rooms dedicated to knightly themes. And in each of them there are equestrian figures literally at every step.
Fortunately for visitors, almost 80% of the arsenal's exhibits are on display without being enclosed by glass. Of course, you will not be able to touch them, but nothing will prevent you from examining them in all details and taking pictures.
Well, we will begin our story with the history of the origin of this collection, so that it is clear why it is so rich and there are so many valuable exhibits in it.
It is customary to start acquaintance with the collections of armor and weapons with the oldest samples, or … helmets, since it is considered to be an important, so to speak, part of the human body and the level of protection corresponding to its status is simply necessary for it. In the collection of the Chamber there is a very interesting segment helmet (spandenhelm) of the 6th century. Came to Europe from the East together with the Sarmatians. It was very popular in the early Middle Ages among the German nobility. It was also found among the Franks in northern Europe, and among the Vandals in Africa, and among the Saxons and Angles in the lands of Britain. It usually consisted of four iron segments riveted to a brass or bronze frame, often gilded.
The fact is that the emperors from the Habsburg family received objects of art and the same knightly equipment from the most remote lands: from Bohemia and Hungary, Galicia and various Balkan territories, from the modern Benelux countries - the old Netherlands, and such provinces of modern France as Burgundy. Alsace, Lorraine and finally from Spain and northern Italy. The development of diplomatic relations and military conflicts made it possible to diversify the collection with many items from the Middle East, including armor and weapons of the Turks, Persians and Egyptians who had some kind of relationship with the Habsburgs.
Conical helmets with a fixed nasal iron plate were used mainly from the 9th to the 12th century. They were made from a whole piece of iron as a single whole and without decorations. Due to the fact that the Bayeux tapestry depicts the conquest of England by the Normans (Battle of Hastings 1066), who wear such helmets on their heads, it is mistakenly called the "Norman helmet". Meanwhile, the helmet of St. Wenceslas 955, which appeared long before the Battle of Hastings. Together with a large almond-shaped shield and knee-length chain mail, such a helmet was part of the complete outfit of medieval warriors for a very long time. Only a few of these helmets have survived, including the helmet of St. Wenceslas, and this Viennese helmet, which was found in 1864 in the Olomouc Voivodeship.
Naturally, the imperial status of everything that surrounded the then rulers of the empire and their vassals, starting from the palaces in which they lived, their furnishings, and even more so clothing, led to the fact that all this acquired the maximum possible refinement. And, of course, the knightly armor of the emperor acquired special value, which should have been truly magnificent from the top of the helmet to the tip of his sword, dagger or mace. The same was true for horses and horse armor. Thus, each of these objects simply could not be a work of art.
The foundation of the collection was laid by the Imperial Chamber of Personal Armor, the existence of which has been documented since 1436, which contained the armor and decorative weapons of the ruling house and its retinue. But in the Baroque era, all this completely lost its meaning, since there was no longer a need to symbolize knightly valor or physical strength through armor. So the items of the imperial collection became museum exhibits designed to perpetuate the history of the Austrian house of the Habsburgs in a different way - through the demonstration of its possession of ancient and beautiful artifacts.
The era of knightly weapons and tournaments was replaced by the "era of hunts", when hunting, and not tournaments, became the main form of entertainment for the nobility. This is how the exposition of court weapons or "Court hunting chamber", created during the reign of Emperor Ferdinand II, appeared, it includes objects of the highest quality of manufacture of each era and until the end of the monarchy in 1918.
The collection also includes the unique collection of Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol (1529-1595), who began collecting it in 1577. He possessed immense wealth and at the same time believed that his duty was to preserve the heritage of the past and perpetuate the memory of his heroes. In accordance with this concept, which was surprisingly modern even by today's standards, he collected armor and weapons that belonged to various famous personalities - from princes to military leaders - both of his own era and of past centuries. This is how his famous Armory of Heroes arose, located in the Ambras castle in Tyrol. He also ordered to prepare the world's first catalog of this collection, which includes 125 illustrations - the world's first printed and illustrated museum catalog in Latin, published in 1601 and in German in 1603. Each "hero" is depicted here in the form of an engraving on a copper plate, dressed in armor, and next to it is his biography. So we have a document confirming the existence of all these armor at the time of its creation, and we also know their original appearance. Interestingly, all in the same 16th century, this collection was open to the public for an admission fee.
The marks on the armor indicate that four different craftsmen worked on them at once, namely Tomaso Missaglia, Antonio Misaglia, Innocenzo da Faerno and Antonio Seroni. This division of labor was typical for this Milan company, in which certain craftsmen specialized in individual pieces of armor. This armor was intended for export to France, therefore it was made "alla francese", that is, in the "French style". This style differed from the Milanese armor proper by symmetrical shoulder pads and small discs to protect the armpits. The helmet is a grand bascinet, that is, a "big bascinet". Sabatons have characteristic late Gothic cusps at the ends. Elector Frederick the Victorious began his reign in the Palatinate in 1449, and it is likely that he bought this armor on the occasion of this event. Note that a feature of the armor of the 15th century, by which it can be easily distinguished from the armor of a later time, was the fastening of the collar. It was attached to the cuirass on two leather straps, front and back. There was a slit on the collar. On the belt there was a metal binding with a U-shaped attachment, which was held through this slot, after which a transverse metal rod on a cord was inserted into it. Due to its shape, it could not fall out, and even if it did fall out, it would not get lost and would remain dangling on a string. Nevertheless, this design was subsequently abandoned and a "necklace" was invented, fastened with a hook. In addition, the enemy spear sliding on the cuirass could fall under this belt and break it! Another difference was the cuirass itself, in which the front and rear parts consisted of two parts each, and they were not connected to each other, although they went over one another. That is, the armor had a "top" held on the shoulders, and a "bottom" - held by the warrior on the belt.
During the Napoleonic studies, the Ambras collection went to Vienna in 1806 as the property of the emperor and was merged with the collection funds described above. In 1889, the collection of weapons and armor was opened to the public as the first collection of the imperial arsenal in the building of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Well, after the overthrow of the monarchy at the end of the First World War in 1918, all the artistic and historical collections of the imperial house of the Habsburgs became the property of the Austrian Republic.
The basis of the arms collection is to some extent formed by the legacy of two emperors: Maximilian I (d. 1519) and Ferdinand I (d. 1564). Moreover, the latter divided all the armor and weapons from his inheritance between his three sons. Part of Emperor Maximilian II remained in Vienna, in the Salzburg Palace, which later became the imperial zeichhaus, the collection of Ferdinand of Tyrol ended up in Prague, and then in Innsbruck, in the Ambras castle, and the part that went to Karl Styria in Graz. After the death of Charles, in 1599, she again returned to the property of the representatives of the main branch, but it was in Vienna only in 1765. Ferdinand added to the inherited possession a collection of weapons of famous people of the past and present and thus created a collection that is unique in its historical and artistic significance. After the death of Ferdinand of Tyrol in 1595, his collection went to his eldest son, Karl von Burgau, but then bought from him into the property of the emperor, and eventually merged with all the other collections.
Around 1500, the so-called "Maximilian armor" appears, the invention of which is attributed to Emperor Maximilian I. They are characterized by the presence of grooves running along their entire surface, but smooth leggings below the knees. The corrugated surface of the new armor created a beautiful play of sunlight on their surfaces, and was definitely close to the fashion for pleating in the clothing of the nobility. In addition to its optical properties, the corrugation also increased the strength of the armor itself, which made it possible to make it thinner and therefore lighter, but with the same level of protection. However, the precise work required to make the corrugation increased the cost of the armor, so that this very expensive fashion disappeared before the middle of the century. The strange "face" on the visor of the helmet was due to the fact that tournaments were then often held during carnivals, at which it was customary to wear a variety of, including frightening, masks. The helmet shown in this photograph belonged to Duke Ulrich von Württemberg (1487-1550). The work of the Master Armor Wilhelm Worm the Elder (1501 - 1538 Nuremberg).
The value of the collection of the Vienna Armory primarily lies in its historical significance, since it stores a colossal number of armor and weapons of famous people, and simply original artifacts of their time. Moreover, it should be emphasized that the authenticity of many of them is also confirmed by numerous inventories dating back to 1580, and not to a lesser extent - by sculptures of the 16th century.
The collection contains mainly weapons and armor from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the Thirty Years' War. It is also unique of its kind in terms of the selection of samples of tournament weapons, among which there are completely unique specimens. An important addition to the unique collections of the arsenal is also the library of the imperial house, which contains valuable illustrated manuscripts and prints devoted to military affairs, tournaments, as well as the art of fencing and horse riding.
P. S. The author and the site administration would like to thank the curators of the Vienna Armory Ilse Jung and Florian Kugler for the opportunity to use her photographs.