A Depiction of an Italian Arming Doublet, c1435-45

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A Depiction of an Italian Arming Doublet, c1435-45
A Depiction of an Italian Arming Doublet, c1435-45
Tobias E. Capwell
In the Istituto al Gabinetto dei disegni e stampe della
Villa Farnesina in Rome there are a series of sixteen pen on
parchment drawings (Inv. FN 2818-2833), dating from
between 1435 and 1445. The identity of the artist is not
known, although he may have been a Paduan. The 220x295
mm drawings depict many famous figures from classical and
early medieval history; thus the drawings are often referred
to as the Uomini illustri series. Included are emperors, kings,
war leaders, philosophers, and biblical and classical heroes.
This is not the only such manuscript to survive. Related
examples may be found in the collections of the Biblioteca
Figure 01: Julius Caeser (fol
2826v), Istituto al Gabinetto dei
disegni e stampe della
Villa Farnesina, Rome, Inv. FN
Reale, Turin (codex 102), the National Gallery of Art in Washington (single page from
the ‘Cockerell Chronicle), the British Library (the ‘Florentine Picture Chronicle’) and the
Crespit Collection in Milan.1
However, the creator of the Uomini illustri series devotes an especially large
proportion of his work to the study of military heroes. Therefore, these drawings are of
some importance to the study of fifteenthcentury arms and armour. Indeed, both
Mann2 and Boccia3 have included them in
their works on Italian armour. The artist
was clearly interested in the subject of arms
and armour; this interest is articulated both
in the attention to detail and in the actual use
of armour as an chronological device.
Military figures of the ancient world, such as
Alexander (fol 2825v) and Julius Caesar
(fol 2826v) are portrayed in a form of
armour all’ antica, a blend of the fantastical
Figure 02: Godfrey de Boullion and Frederick Barbarossa (fol
2827v), Istituto al Gabinetto dei disegni e stampe della
Villa Farnesina, Rome, Inv. FN 2818-2833.
and the ancient. It is not clear from where a fifteenth-century artist’s impression of
ancient equipment would have been derived, although extant Roman material and the
artistic record undoubtedly was of some inspiration.4 In contrast to these pseudoclassical armours, found on twenty-nine of the seventy-eight primary figures (fifty-six of
which are of a military nature), there are fourteen figures depicted as being equipped with
full Italian armour of c1435-45, contemporary with the creation of the series. A further
twelve military characters display various overt combinations of antique and fifteenthcentury armour, a good example being the depiction of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (fol
See Degenhart, Bernhard, and Annegrit Schmitt, Corpus der Italienischen Zeichnungen: 1300-1450
(Berlin: Mann, 1968), vol 2 (part 1), p. 573-621.
Mann, J. G., ‘The Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Grazie with Notes on the Evolution of Italian Armour
During the Fifteenth Century’, Archaeologia, 80 (1930), p. 117-42
Boccia, Lionello Giorgio and E. T. Coelho, L’arte dell ‘armatura in Italia (Milan: Bramante Editrice,
Figure 03:
(fol 2824v),
Istituto al
dei disegni
e stampe
Rome, Inv.
FN 28182833.
2824v), in which an Italian cuirass (familiarly comprised of an upper breastplate, placard,
and fauld) is combined with fantastical shoulder defenses of the type (a round plate edged
with a piccadill-like fringe, from which are suspended a number of ‘pteruges’, a feature
often associated with classical armour) found on most of the classical figures.
Figure 04:
Cyrus, and
Nebroth (fol
Istituto al
Gabinetto dei
disegni e
stampe della
Rome, Inv.
FN 28182833.
Godoy, Jose-A., and Stuart W. Pyhrr, Heroic Armor of the Italian Renaissance: Filippo Negroli and his
Contemporaries (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998), p. 7-14.
The one remaining military figure (fol 2825v) is
striking and unique. He wears a fifteenthcentury arming doublet5, complete with arming
points and what appear to be lines of quilt-like
stitching. His legs are manacled and he wears a
crown on his head. Above this he is named (as
are all of the primary figures in the series)
‘SIFAX REX’, and below is a biographical
This is an abbreviated version of ‘fui tempore
Hannibalis’, literally, ‘I was in the time of
A brief examination of the identity of
this figure makes the artist’s inclusion of an
Figure 05: King Syphax (fol 2825v), Istituto al
Gabinetto dei disegni e stampe della
Villa Farnesina, Rome, Inv. FN 2818-2833.
arming doublet in this single case all the more
significant. Syphax was the leader of the Masaesylii, a Numidian tribe based in north
Africa during the third century BC. He and his followers played an active role in the
second Punic War, fighting at various points for both Carthage and Rome. He was
Arming doublets were generally referred to as either ‘giubboni’ or ‘guibbonetti’ in Italian. See, for
example, the appearances of these terms in the 1492 inventory of the Medici palace (Mediceo Avanti Il
Principato, File number 165, State Archives, Florence). Reprinted in Scalini, Mario, ‘The Weapons of
Lorenzo de’Medici: An Examination of the Inventory of the Medici Palace in Florence Drawn up upon the
Death of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1492’, in Art, Arms and Armour: An International Anthology Volume
I, 1979-1980, ed. by Robert Held (Chiasso: Acquafresca Editrice, 1979), p.12-29.
finally defeated at the Battle of the Great Plains (204 BC), after which he was pursued
and captured. He died in imprisonment in Italy in 201 BC.6
Many of the depictions in the series include a symbolic context for the figures, as
an aid to their identification. For example Samson (fol 2826v) is portrayed with his
trademark long hair and jaw-bone club, standing atop a mound of dead Philistines,
Theseus (fol 2827v) bears a miniature labyrinth, and Saladin (fol 2827v) wears a turban
and carries a curved scimitar. It would seem that the arming doublet found in the
depiction of Syphax, being such a specific feature, unique in the series, is meant to
function as a signature of identity. It makes it immediately clear to the fifteenth-century
viewer that this is a warrior-king who has been captured and stripped of his weapons and
armour; his imprisonment, the last major event of his life, is emphasised by his shackled
legs. Thus the basic historical significance of Syphax is clearly and efficiently expressed
in a primarily visual way.
This example is significant simply
because of the fact that evidence regarding
fifteenth-century arming doublets, of any
sort, is rare in the extreme. There are few
extant examples; the arming doublet in the
Kienbusch collection at the Philadelphia
Frederiksen, M. W., P. M. Ogilvie, and F. W. Walbank, Cambridge Ancient History, vol 8 (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 62-3. See also Mazard, Jean, Corpus Nummorum Numidiae
Mauretaniaeque (Paris: Arts et Metiers Graphiques, 1955), p. 17-20, fig. 1-9.
Figure 06:
sixteenth or
Museum of
Art, Inv.
Museum of Art, once thought to be of fifteenth-century origin, probably dates from the
late 1500s or early1600s.7 Indeed, this garment most closely compares to the arming
doublet of Prince Eugen of Austria, which dates from the second half of the seventeenth
century.8 There are also three garments -two in the Museum fur Kunst und
Kulturgeschichte der Hansestadt, Lubeck, and another in the Altmarkisches Museum,
Stendal- which are probably German arming garments dating from around 1430-50.9
However, these long, thickly padded coats are sleeveless and are not fitted with arming
points; therefore it is difficult to determine their exact function.
In the absence of definitive material evidence, representational clues remain the
only source of information available; a basic understanding of these garments must then
be extrapolated.
The most famous
depiction of an arming
doublet dates from around
1460, and is found in MS 55
(the ‘Hastings’ manuscript),
Figure 07: 'How a man schall be armyd', c1460.
Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, Inv. MS 55,
fol 122b-123b.
LaRocca, Donald, Personal Communications, September 1998 and September 2001. The author would
like to thank Mr. LaRocca for making his correspondence regarding this doublet (with the fashion historian
Janet Arnold) available. Thread and stuffing analysis (both flax), based on the available comparative
evidence, suggests that the doublet was constructed in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth-century.
Gutkas, Karl, and others, Prinz Eugen und das Barocke Osterreich (Vienna: Niederostterreichischen
Landesmuseums, 1986, p.181, pl. 48. The author would like to thank Donald LaRocca for this reference.
Published in Binder, M. J., ‘Zwei angebliche rocke Gustav I von Schweden im Lubecker Museum’,
Waffen- und Kostumkunde, 1, 6/7 (April 1925), 191-192, and in Schroder, Almuth, ‘Gesteppt un wattiertZur Geschichte und Bifunktionalitat der Stepparbeit’, Waffen- und Kostumkunde, 33, 1/2 (1991), 59. These
garments have previously been dated to the sixteenth century; the author, however, believes this dating to
be too late. The design of these coats, with their long skirts, dependant dags and centrally-radiating breast
folio 122b-123b, in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. The text relating to this
depiction (‘How a man schall be armyd at his ese when he schal fighte on foote’)
provides some of the best information in regard to arming doublets, albeit within the
specific context of formalised foot combats in England.10 However, the illustration
indicates very little about the doublet itself, other than the presence of a short standing
collar. It is important in that it details the presence of mail voiders that cover the
underarms (areas not protected by plate) and a mail skirt that protects the groin, hips, and
lower abdomen.
Despite the value of the
Hastings MS illustration, scenes
depicting the arming of knights and
men-at-arms are generally not very
helpful. They are few in number, and
those that do exist usually present the
arming process as nearly complete; the
cuirass is shown in place, while the
squires make final adjustments. Thus
the arming doublet is obscured. In a
Figure 08: Hector Arming for his Last Battle, Epitre d'Orthea, by
Christine de Pisan (the artist is anonymous but may have been from
Ghent), c1485. James A. De Rothschild Collection, Waddesdon
Manor, MS 8 fol 48.
miniature illustrating Hector arming
and back stitching, seem to closely conform to the German fashionable taste of c1430-50, and would
almost certainly be entirely out of place in the 1500s.
For example, see Viscount Dillon, ‘On a MS Collection of Ordinances of Chivalry of the fifteenth
century, belonging to Lord Hastings’, Archaeologia, 57 (1901), p. 43-46.
for his final battle with Achilles, from Christine de Pisan’s Epitre d'Orthea (MS 8 folio
48, James A. De Rothschild Collection, Waddesdon Manor, c1485), the arming process is
almost finished, with only the sallet and gauntlets remaining.
The situation is very similar in a
miniature depicting the arming of King Nynus
from the French Romance of Troy in the
Bodleian Library, Oxford (c1470). Again the
arming is almost complete, with only the
pauldrons, gauntlets, and sallet left to don.
Mail is in evidence at the shoulders, and what
appears to be some form of arming cap is also
discernible. The arming scene most
contemporary with the Paduan drawings is
Figure 09: The Arming of King Nynus,
Romance of Troy, c1470. Bodleian Library,
found in the Bedford Hours, c1430. Again the warrior, in this case Clovis, is for the most
part fully armed; his great basinet and sword lie close by on a bench, as do the remaining
pieces in two of the previous examples
(King Nynus seems content to allow
his squires to throw his armour on the
floor). One squire is shown securing
the right pauldron, while another fits
the right spur over the king’s sabaton.
Interestingly, the armour in this
illustration is very similar to that
Figure 10: Detail from
‘The Legend of the
Fleur de Lys’, Bedford
Hours, c1430. British
Library, Additional
MS 18850, fol 288b.
found in the Paduan drawings, having such Italianate features as the mail sleeves worn
over the vambraces, the centrally strapped placard, and the large circular reinforce fitted
to the left pauldron.
Figure 11: A knight arming, Poems of Christine
de Pisan c1415. British Library, Inv. Harley MS
Outside of an arming context, it becomes very difficult to be certain that artists
were in fact illustrating arming doublets at all. It was not uncommon, for example, for
ceremonial or dress doublets to be worn with partial armour in an official or ritualistic
context. These could be mistaken for arming doublets.
Furthermore, by 1450 it had become fashionable in Italy to wear
non-functional arming points on civilian doublets. This trend
seems to have lasted until at least 1490, and can confuse the issue
further, in the sense that decorative arming points were mounted
on garments designed not as foundation garments for armour, but
rather as stylish personal statements.11 Decorative points of this
type are perhaps found at their most prominent in the ‘meeting
scenes’, depicting the Gonzaga court, painted by Andrea
Figure 12: Detail from ‘La
Bouquechardiere’, c1465.
Waddesdon Manor, MS 11 fol
Mantegna on the walls of the Camera Picta in the Castello San Giorgio, Mantua. In these
works decorative arming points are found on the rich courtly
Figure 13: Sigismundo Gonzaga, by Andrea Mantegna, c1465-74. Camera Picta, Castello San Giorgio,
Figure 14: Ludovico Gonzaga, by Andrea Mantegna, c1465-74. Camera Picta, Castello San Giorgio, Mantua.
doublets worn by most of the figures. The same feature also appears elsewhere in
Mantegna’s work, for example in his ‘Martyrdom of St Christopher’ (Eremitani Church,
Padua). Garments bearing decorative arming points were depicted by many other Italian
artists in the second half of the fifteenth-century; they appear frequently in the work of
Piero della Francesca, Cosme Tura, and others.
Herald, Jacqueline, Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500 (London: Bell and Hyman, 1981), p.18.
Figure 15: Portrait of a Young Man by
Cosme Tura, 1450-52. Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York.
Figure 16: Detail from ‘The Family of
Uberto de' Sacrati’ by an unknown
Italian master, c1480. Alte
Pinakothek, Munich
Otherwise, depictions of what are clearly functional, military arming doublets are
rare in the extreme. One of the clearest, other than the Syphax example, may be found in
a donor portrait, c1450, of Don Inigo de Mendoza by
Jorge Ingles, now in the Duque de Infantado Collection,
Madrid. In this important comparison, the main body of
the doublet is obscured by an over-garment, just as is
the case in the Syphax example. The doublet is of a
different, predominantly Western-European type,
having five pairs of points to support the three-part
vambrace (made up of an upper cannon, couter, and
lower cannon, all separate and not attached to each
other) that had become common in Western Europe
Figure 17: Detail from a Donor Portrait of
Don Inigo de Mendoza by Jorge Ingles,
c1450. Duque de Infantado Collection,
by 1450. Another clear illustration of an arming doublet of this type can be found in a
British Library manuscript (Chronicle of England by Jean de Waurin, Royal MS 14 EIV
folio 14v, Flemish c1470), where it appears on an archer who has either discarded his
arm defenses, or has yet to acquire them.
Nevertheless, the difficulties of determining exactly what is being represented, in
a great deal of the pictorial record, serves to emphasise the singular usefulness of
interpretation of the Syphax depiction.
Unlike the points described in the Hastings
manuscript, which are required to be ‘made of fyne
twyne suche as men make stryngis for crossbowes’12
and waxed (probably with beeswax mixed with a
resin or linseed oil), Italian points seem usually to
have been more ribbon-like, being strips of a
textile, probably linen or silk. Attached to the ends
Figures 18, 19, 20: Details of King Syphax
of these strips were metal aiglets; even tiny details such as(fol
way in
the material
al Gabinetto
dei disegni e
was gathered into minute folds at the
throat of the aiglets was often
depicted. Points of this type, while
being clearly the norm on
fashionable doublets, also appear
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, MS55, fol 122b.
stampe della Villa Farnesina, Rome, Inv. FN
in portraits of Italian men in armour; Bonsignori’s portraits of Francesco
Figure 21: Portrait of Francesco Sforza,
by Francesco Bonsignori, c1480.
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC,
Inv. 1942.9.4 (600).
Figure 22: Detail from
Portrait of Francesco
Sforza, by Francesco
Bonsignori, c1480.
National Gallery of Art,
Washington DC, Inv.
1942.9.4 (600).
Figure 23: Portrait of a warrior,
by Francesco Bonsignori, c1480
Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore
Sforza (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and of an unknown man-at-arms (Walters
Art Gallery, Baltimore) are excellent examples. This type of arming point seems usually
to have been coloured; blue or black points did exist, though seem to have been rare,
while red or white points, as colourfully painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio in his ‘Legend
of Saints Justus and Clement of Volterra (c1479, National Gallery, London, Inv. NG
2902), were apparently more common. The two pairs of points mounted just below the
point of the shoulder are prominently featured, and the artist has been careful to exactly
articulate the way in which they are fixed to the doublet.
The function of these points, as hinted above, was to secure the vambraces; the
upper cannons would normally have been fitted with leather tabs around their top edges,
which would in turn be punched with holes matching the position of the points on the
doublet. Each pair of points correspond to a set of four holes in the sleeve; the ends of
the points are first passed through the top two holes, and then brought out through the
bottom two. This creates a strong anchor point onto which the vambraces may be
Figure 24: Italian
vambrace of an
Italian armour,
c1440-45. Art
Gallery and
Glasgow, Inv. 193965e.
Note the leather
band, punched with
holes, through which
the arming points
were passed and
then securely tied.
Three pairs of points are present at the hips, although in this case each pair of
points are threaded into a single pair of holes; they are not then brought out again through
additional holes. However, despite the fact that these hip points are largely obscured, the
artist has been careful, again, to provide enough detail for there to be no mistake as to the
function of the garment. These three pairs of lower points are placed precisely where
they are required to support the cuisses, which would be pointed on in a similar manner
to the vambraces, by means of a leather tab that extended above the top edges. The
Figure 25: Right cuisse of an Italian armour,
c1440-45. Art Gallery and Museum,
Kelvingrove, Glasgow, Inv. 1939-65e.
Note the leather tab that extends above the
top plate of the cuisse; hip-mounted arming
points such as those illustrated on the Syphax
depiction would be passed through holes in
this tab and then tightly knotted. This
attachment, combined with the set of straps
affixed to the cuisse itself, secured the armour
tightly to the wearer’s leg.
points are positioned directly over the hip since it is from this point that the thigh
articulates; the cuisse can thus mimic the natural mechanics of the wearer’s body. The
points are not brought back outside the doublet because the cuisse must extend under the
padded skirts of the doublet (which is split to facilitate movement). This method then, by
keeping the hip points inside, also provides them with additional protection from damage.
Since the efficacy of his visual statement depends on Syphax’s garment being
immediately recognised as a functional military garment, the artist has been especially
careful to show it in some detail. What remains unclear, however, is why he
unfortunately elected to cover much of it with a short cloak. This may be an additional
layer of the representation of Syphax as a warrior. The over-garment
may in fact be a form of giornea, a short cape or cloak that
Italian knights and men-at-arms often wore with their armour.
Garments of this type are common in the art of the
Quatrocento. Regardless, it obscures much of the doublet.
There is, however, enough of it visible to both allow it to be
clearly recognisable and to give a number of clues as to
its exact function.
Figure 26: Fresco (transferred to
wood) of Pippo Spano by Andrea
del Castagno, c1450. Uffizi
Gallery, Florence.
The basic cut of the doublet is not unprecedented within the context of Italian
fashion of the time. While the torso does not appear to be quilted, the hip-length skirt
and lower arm certainly are, and possible lines of stitching are discernible on the main
upper portion of the one visible sleeve. The skirt also appears to be
engrailed along its hem, although since only one side is visible, it is
possible that slits are only meant to be present at either hip,
possibly to facilitate riding. Both ideas are equally feasible, as
other depictions of similar garments show both designs. A study
of hanged men by Pisanello, made in preparation for his Saint
George frescos (at the church of Sant’Anastasia, Verona), shows a
number of doublets very like that found in the Syphax depiction.13
Figure 27: Detail of King
Syphax (fol 2825v), Istituto al
Gabinetto dei disegni e stampe
della Villa Farnesina, Rome,
Inv. FN 2818-2833.
Figures 28, 29, 30: Details from a study of hanged
men by Pisanello, c1434-8. British Museum, Inv.
In the case of these examples, the skirts seem to be slit lengthwise at regular intervals
along the hems. In one example, quilted padding appears to be in evidence, being
For this reference the author would like to thank Karen Watts, Senior Curator of Armour, Royal
Armouries, Leeds.
comprised of a series of longitudinal lines on the skirts, while on the main body of the
jacket is cross-hatched with a diamond pattern.
Figures 31,
32: Italian
Drawing (pen
and black ink,
with coloured
Museum of
Fine Arts,
In another Italian drawing of the same period, an unarmed knight converses with a
group of partially armed soldiers. He wears a doublet again very similar to the Syphax
depiction, although in this case the skirt only displays a small cut-out around the hip. As
in the Syphax depiction, the quilted skirt also displays horizontal lines of stitching, and
the same sleeve-mounted arming points are also present.
One must also note that unlike the
Hastings illustration, there are no mail voiders
attached to this arming doublet. This should not
be at all surprising, in fact, it would be quite
unusual if mail were in evidence. It seems
clear that, until at least 1470, Italian men-atarms continued to wear a full mail shirt,
reaching just below the hips, under their armour.
This was often combined with an additional
Figure 33: Detail from ‘St Sebastian’, attributed to
Master Leon Picardo, c1470-80. Sold at Sotheby's
New York, January 25th, 2001, location unknown at
time of publication.
mail skirt, that extended in some cases almost to the knees. This formed the
characteristic ‘double hem’ of mail that can be so frequently found in fifteenth-century
Italian depictions of fully-armed warriors.
Figures 34, 35: Details from ‘An Army Breaking Camp’ by Giovanni Battini, c1460. Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Canon
Class Lat. 81, fol. 49v.
Note, in the right detail, how the squire must push back the mail sleeve to tie the points at the top of the arm. Once this is
done, neither the arm or leg points (detailed in the Syphax depiction) are left exposed.
Note also the partially armed squire wearing a mail shirt and carrying a saddle, while another fully dressed and mounted
squire, holding his comrade’s horse, wears what may be an arming cap.
A drawing by Giovanni Battini (c1460) in the Bodleian Library includes several details
of knights arming, one of which clearly illustrates the donning of a mail coat in addition
to a longer mail skirt, while the squire stands by with the upper breastplate, which will
then be placed over the mail. The reason for this configuration (as opposed to simply a
longer mail shirt) is unclear, although from a practical point of view it would certainly
optimise the weight distribution (the weight of the mail being split between the shoulders
and the waist); efficiency in the bearing of this mail weight would become very important
when one takes into account the additional load of the full plate harness. Interestingly, in
the Uomini illustri series itself, eleven of the twelve primary figures in full Italian plate
armour display the double hem of mail.
The final detail (briefly touched upon above) in the Syphax depiction that is of
immediate import is the inclusion of lines of stitching, prominent on the doublet’s
forearms and skirt. Longitudinal stitching may also be in evidence along the length of the
arm. This implies that the doublet has had a layer of padding incorporated into its
construction. This would be
essential, for while the arming
doublet functions as a
foundation garment, it also
must provide some shockabsorbing potential. Without
some form of padding, no
Figure 36: Detail
from a fresco
depicting a battle,
c1445. Museo
Tridentino, Trento.
Note that the manat-arms on the left
wears pauldrons,
while the two on
the right rely on
their mail shirts
alone for shoulder
metal armour, plate or mail, can provide effective protection. This would be especially
important to the Italian man-at-arms, since parts of the plate armour, particularly the large
pauldrons, would at times be discarded, whether for combat on foot or as a matter of
expediency in the hot Italian climate. In these cases the protection of the uncovered areas
was left to the arming doublet and the mail alone (as indeed they had been for hundreds
of years previously); stout padding would thus be even more important.
The Uomini illustri series, beyond the mentions by Mann and Boccia already
cited, have otherwise yet to be studied in any detail.14 They undoubtedly contain many
more details that should be of interest to scholars and art historians. Yet to those
involved in the study of arms and armour, the Syphax depiction is of particular relevance,
since it displays, with clarity and style, one of the least understood aspects of the subject.
Papaldo, Serenita, Director of the Istituto al Gabinetto dei disegni e stampe della Villa Farnesina, Rome
(personal communication, November 2000).
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