Alberto Dalla Valle & Giovanni Sartori
The decision to include a prize in the 2017 edition at the Torneo in Armatura established an authentic challenge that put our knowledge of both the artisanal and artistic fields to the test.
Designing a heroic helmet with a dragon theme was a gamble in that there were no findings on which to base the designs, rendering it extremely easy to make stylistic mistakes and thus creating a work that would not correspond to the chosen era (the second half of the 15th century).
Amour with heroic themes was documented extensively in the 15th century (and earlier) in drawings, paintings and even sculptures. In this regard, we referenced the most exhausted study carried out by Stuart W. Pyhrr and Josè A.Godoy 1.
Unfortunately, in terms of original pieces of the time that have been passed down to us, there is just a single helmet kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which consists of a barbute decorated with a lion’s head in embossed and gilded copper 2.
The barbute was the type of helmet chosen to “support” the dragon’s head 3;. These helmets are possibly the longest-lasting representatives of the trend of decorating the helmet with copper alloys. As the typical form of the 15th century, the barbute was used as a parade helmet until nearly the 1800s, particularly in the Veneto area 4.
It is also important to note that in humanist culture and the collective imaginary, the barbute, along with other weapons and armor, represented a link to the classical world. The Renaissance man viewed the barbute as the Corinthian helmet of the hoplites.
Per quanto riguarda il design del drago, ci si è rifatti soprattutto all’iconografia dell’epoca oltre che ad un alcuni cimieri giunti fino a noi 5.
In terms of the dragon design, it was primarily based on the iconography of the era as well as some crests that have survived over time.
Once the type of helmet was chosen and the iconography studied in depth, we moved on to sketches, designs and a 1:1 scale model in order to understand how to develop the head in bronze in the best way possible.
The barbute was created by beginning with a soft iron sheet (a disc of 600mm in diameter and 3mm thick in Fe360) with a traditional technique of heated deep drawing that allowed the helmet to be molded in a single piece.
Once the forging was complete, the helmet was flattened and shined by hand, and then burnished with cooked linseed oil.
The head of the dragon was comprised of 4 distinct pieces that were then welded together with tin and riveted to the helmet. The chosen material was bronze (1mm thick sheet) that accurately represents medieval copper alloys in terms of features and composition.
In order to give form to the various components, they were first shaped, once again through deep drawing, on the size of the helmet.
They were them embossed and flattened with pitch and burin and finally decorated with lime and chisels.
In order to make the incisions stand out, they were coated while the parts in relief were shined by hand with lime, sandpaper and steel wool.
1) Stuart W. Pyhrr et Josè A.Godoy. Heroic armour of Italian Renaissance: Filippo Negroli and his contemporaries, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Distributed by Harry H. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1998.
2) Metropolitan Museum (New York), n°inv. 23.141.
3) model shape from original barbute in the Armeria Reale do Torino dated1470 .
4) Some Example:
- Sketch for a medal by Pisanello (Antonio di Puccio Pisano), dated 1448-50, Alfonso V d’Aragona with a bearded open garnished with family symbology. Musée du Louvre (Paris).
- Helmet of the Captain of the People, sec XV-XVI. Museo Civico di Siena (Siena).
- Saint George and the Dragon, 1456 ca, Paolo Uccello. National Gallery (London), n°inv. NG6294.
- Crest in embossed copper alloy, second half of the 15th century. Museo statale d'arte medievale e moderna (Arezzo).
- Federico di Aragona Heraldry. BNF (Paris) Ms Latin 10532.
A very special Thank to CENTRO LINGUISTICO CESENA for the translation of this article from Italian to English.