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Backplate (body armour): M.1-1943

Object information

Awaiting location update


Production: Unknown




Backplate for heavy field or possibly siege use, with etched decoration. Formed of a single plate of unusually great weight, slightly shaped to the shoulder blades. The straight neck-opening and the arm-openings are decorated with roped ribs at their edges in imitation of turns. The left end of the rib at the neck has later, filed, transverse lines. The upper corners of the backplate are each pierced with a pair of rivet-holes for the attachment of shoulder-straps or, more probably, hasps. The slightly convex sides of the backplate are each pierced with five holes, possibly for the attachment of extension-plates that were fitted within the edges. They are represented by impressions in the corrosion-products of the inside of the backplate as well as by a fragment of one of the plates retained by a pair of externally-flush rivets occupying the top two holes on the left side. The remains of similar rivets also occupy the lowest three holes on the left side and the top and central hole on the right side. The left side is cracked at two points. The lower edge of the backplate is flanged outwards to receive a skirt. The skirt was retained by a rivet at each side and by an internal leather secured by a pair of rivets at the centre. The rivet-holes are now vacant. The backplate is fitted a short distance in from each side, just above the waist-flange, with a round-headed rivet that secured the missing waist-belt that fastened around the front of the breastplate.
The backplate is decorated with finely etched ornament in bands that border the neck and arm-openings respectively. The ogee-shaped band at the neck-opening and the bands at the arm-openings are each bordered by a pair of narrower bands, of which the outer one is etched with circular pellets on a blackened and stippled ground. A similar band of pellets decorates the base of the backplate, just above the angle of the waist-flange. The main ornament consists of scrolling foliage on a blackened and stippled ground involving, in the band at the neck-opening, three hounds pursuing a stag, in the bands at the arm-openings, grotesque and dolphin-headed scrolls, cornucopia and ribands, and in the medial band, the figure of St Judith above rectangular cartouches, oval shields and other devices.


History note: The backplate may originally have come from the armoury of the Dukes of Brunswick at Schloss Blankenburg where similarly decorated pieces were formerly preserved, now transferred to the Marienburg near Hildesheim. It was presumably purchased from Fenton & Sons Ltd of 33 Cranbourn Street, Leicester Square, London WC2, whose label it bears, dated 16 January 1943.

Legal notes

Given by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum

Measurements and weight

Depth: 8.0 cm
Height: 38.5 cm
Weight: 5.07 kg
Width: 40.0 cm

Relative size of this object

40 cm38.5 cm8 cm What does this represent?

Relative size of this object is displayed using code inspired by Good Form and Spectacle's work on the British Museum's Waddeson Bequest website and their dimension drawer. They chose a tennis ball to represent a universally sized object, from which you could envisage the size of an object.

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Given (1943-03-29) by The Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum


Mid-16th Century
Production date: circa AD 1550


North German, probably Brunswick

The backplate is bright with a mottled light to heavy patination and pitting overall.

Components of the work


Materials used in production


Techniques used in production

Hammered : Formed of a single plate of great weight, slightly shaped to the shoulder blades; hammered, shaped, riveted, decorated with finely etched ornament in bands on blackened and stippled ground

Inscription or legends present

  • Text: printed 'Fenton and Sons Ltd. 33, Cranbourn Street, Leicester Square, London, W.C.2' by hand ''The Director/Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge' and inscribed 'Received 16 Jan 43'
  • Method of creation: Printed and addressed by hand
  • Type: Label
  • Text: 'Bought by/Friends of the FItzwilliam' on one side and '16/I 1943' with an extract of a letter from Sir James Mann concerning the relationships of the piece
  • Location: Pasted over label with address
  • Method of creation: Inscribed
  • Type: Label

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: M.1-1943
Primary reference Number: 18603
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Thursday 11 August 2016 Last processed: Sunday 21 March 2021

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

Citation for print

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2022) "Backplate (body armour)" Web page available at: Accessed: 2022-12-02 03:08:36

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