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Breastplate (body armour): M.17-1947

Object information

Current Location: Gallery 31 (Armoury)


Production: Unknown




Breastplate, for heavy cavalry use, with etched decoration. Formed of a medially-ridged main plate projecting forward over the belly and fitted with movable gussets at the arm-openings, and a separate waist-plate. The almost straight neck-opening and the gussets have boldly roped inward turns. The main plate is pierced at the right armpit with a pair of large, vertically-aligned holes for the attachment of a missing lance-rest. The gussets at the arm-openings are secured to the main plate by modern, round-headed rivets with octagonal internal washers at their upper and lower ends. The upper ones move within diagonal slots cut in the gussets. The slot in the right gusset has broken out and been repaired with a riveted internal patch. Attached within the upper end of each gusset by an externally-flush rivet is a double-ended, tongued-iron buckle with filed decoration and a rectangular hasp. Attached within the lower edge of the main plate by a modern round-headed rivet with an octagonal internal washer at each side is a waist-plate which is flanged outwards at its lower edge to receive a skirt. The left rivet lacks its head and internal washer. Each side of the flange of the waist-plate is pierced with a rivet-hole for the attachment of the missing skirt. Each side of the main plate is pierced just above the waist-plate with a later hole that has subsequently been plugged with an externally-flush rivet. Each side of the waist-plate is similarly pierced on its angle with a later hole that has subsequently been plugged with an externally-flush rivet. The external edges of the breastplate have been pierced with a total of eighteen pairs of later holes, possibly for attaching a lining.
The breastplate is decorated with finely etched ornament in bands that border the neck and arm-opening, in a band that runs across the angle of the waist-plate and in three bands that diverge from the waist to the centres of the neck and arm-openings respectively. The ogee-shaped band at the neck-opening is bordered by a pair of narrower bands of which the outer one is etched with circular pellets on a blackened ground. A similar band of pellets decorates the edges of the main plate at the arm-openings. The main ornament, except at the neck-opening, consists of scrolling foliage on a blackened and stippled ground, involving, in bands at the arm-openings, cornucopia and ribands, in the lateral bands, goats' heads suspending satyrs by their necks, and in the medial band, Hercules wrestling with Antaeus above a rectangular cartouch enclosing the inscription HRCKLVS, and an animal's head suspending drapery and a swag from its mouth. The ornament at the neck-opening shows two mounted huntsmen, armed with a sword and a spear respectively, three hounds, a dog and two falcons pursuing a stag, a fox and two hares towards a net on a blackened and stippled ground. A lady rides side-saddle behind the rear of the two huntsmen. The top half of the space intervening between the medial band and the left lateral band is etched with the figure of a knight in knee-length armour kneeling before the crucifix with his open close helmet lying on the ground in front of him.


History note: From the Thewalt Collection, sold at Cologne, 1903, and the collection of Sir Guy Francis Laking, bought by Mr Stead on 24 March 1904 for £80. Lent to the Fitzwilliam Museum by Mrs E.W. Stead and Mr Gilbert Stead from 1936 to 1947.

Legal notes

Bought with funds from the Leverton Harris Fund and a contribution from Mr Louis C.G. Clarke

Measurements and weight

Depth: 17 cm
Height: 35.7 cm
Weight: 4.28 kg
Width: 38.4 cm

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bought (1947-12-06) by Stead Collection


16th Century, Mid#
Production date: circa AD 1550


North German, probably Brunswick

The breastplate is bright with a mottled light to medium patination overall.

This heavy breastplate – it weighs 4.28 kg – is made in the fashion prevalent in the mid-16th century in Germanic lands for the heavy cavalry and was made for the court of the Dukes of Brunswick. It has additional plates around the arms openings which are attached by means of rivets and leather straps and give the wearer extra freedom of movement. This very fine breastplate was made for the court of the Dukes of Brunswick. The decoration is very elaborate. In the centre is a scene of Hercules wrestling Antaeus, the son of Poseidon, who challenged all passers-by to combat. His strength only lasted while he was in contact with the ground and Hercules defeated him by holding him aloft in a bear-hug and crushing him to death. Beneath is engraved HRCKLVS. The strip of decoration around the collar shows two mounted huntsmen pursuing a stag, a fox and two hares. At top right is a knight in armour kneeling before the crucifix with his helmet before him.

People, subjects and objects depicted

Components of the work

Buckles composed of iron (metal)

Materials used in production


Techniques used in production

Hammered : Formed of a medially-ridged main plate projecting forward over the belly and fitted with moveable gussets at the arm-openings, and a separate waist-plate; hammered, shaped, riveted, with etched decoration on a stippled and blackened ground

References and bibliographic entries

Identification numbers

Accession number: M.17-1947
Primary reference Number: 18604
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Saturday 6 August 2011 Updated: Tuesday 13 April 2021 Last processed: Thursday 7 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

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

Citation for print

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The Fitzwilliam Museum (2024) "Breastplate (body armour)" Web page available at: Accessed: 2024-04-17 19:52:58

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