Composite full armor of the etched “Pisan” style of Northern Italy, certainly of the style and
possibly from the workshop of famed armorer Pompeo della Cesa of Milan (active 1572-
1593). He was Armorer to the Court of Milan and his workshops were located in Sforza
Castle. Numbered among Pompeo’s clientele were some of the most celebrated
noblemen of their day. These included Spanish kings Philip II and III, as well as
Alessandro Farnese (1545-92), Duke of Parma and Piacenza; Vincenzo I Gonzaga
(1562-1612), Duke of Mantua; and Emanuele Filiberto (1528-80), Duke of Savoy. All
suits of this style feature etching with blackened backgrounds and some were also gilt or
blued and gilt.
This suit comprises breastplate with heavily roped neck and gussets, scarce lance rest,
back plate, tassets, gorget, and cabasset; full arm defenses consisting of pauldrons,
rerebrace, couters, vambrace, and gauntlets; complete leg defenses (excellent Victorian
era copies, except the poleyns which are 16th C originals), consisting of cuisses, poleyns,
greaves, and sabatons. The parts entirely etched in the Pisan style of ca. 1570-1600 with
blackened backgrounds, featuring embossed medallions with human cameos, and further
etched with classical figures and bands filled mainly with musical instruments, parts of
armor, animals and other pieces of nature in the style commonly known to armor
afficionados as “mops and brooms”. The cabasset, also known as a Spanish morion,
was the helm most commonly found with this style armor and that which was worn for
parade use. This example featuring flat narrow brim with turned and roped edges and
coming to a peak with rear-facing stalk; etched with a band circling the brim and radiating
bands rising from a border above the brim to the peak, each with roped borders. Brass
rivets with rosettes around the base and remnants of original gilding. There is a large old
repair to the wearer’s right side at the brim and lower skull and a smaller later repair on
the opposite side (see photos). Suit has been professionally restored with replaced
leather and red velvet straps. Back plate and left couter patched and some rivets
replaced; the right tasset an excellent modern reproduction to match the left.
A number of these armors, lacking leg defenses and gauntlets, were known to have been
used by the Amsterdam Town Guard and 44 armors of this style remain in the collection
of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It is not known how or when the Town Guard came
into possession of these armors, but it is assumed that at least some were obtained on
the secondary market, since at least one armor bears the name of its former Italian owner.
Armors of this style are featured in old master paintings, including one by Rembrandt
painted in 1655. It is not known if these armors were still being worn at this late date,
however, since Rembrandt acquired some arms and armor at auction to use as studio
props. Such armors would generally have been considered out of fashion by this time and
we have personally owned a mid-17th C Dutch pikeman’s armor with tassets recycled
from parts of one of these Pisan style armors; the metal turned inside-out so the etching
appears on the inside rather than the exposed outer surface.
In addition to the more common half armors with cabasset, such armors often had mix-
and-match parts to complete a full armor for foot combat or the tilt. With such armors a
close helmet would be included, such as the blued and gilt armor made for Jean Jacques
de Verdelain, Grand Commander of Malta, still residing in the Armory of the Knights of St.
John of Jerusalem in Malta.
A gilded half armor of this style sold at Gallerie Fischer in Lucerne, Switzerland in
September, 2009 for 798,000 Swiss Francs (about $767,000 USD at the time). The full
armor offered here is a very impressive suit of the same style at a fraction of the cost.