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Maximilian armor – the early 16th-century German plate armor

Ian Harvey

Maximilian armor is associated with, and possibly first made for the Emperor Maximilian I. It is a modern-day term pertaining to the style early 16th-century German plate armor. Made of plain steel, highly polished, and called ‘white armor’, it was decorated with many grooves that were instrumental in deflecting the points and blades of attackers.

This period followed the plain steel surfaces of 15th-century armor and preceded the elaborate decoration, coloring, engraving, and other techniques of Renaissance armor.

A suit of Maximilian plate armour of the late 15th century, made by Lorenz Helmschmied of Augsburg, now kept in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Photo Credit

A suit of Maximilian plate armor of the late 15th century, made by Lorenz Helmschmied of Augsburg, now kept in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Photo Credit

 

Armour of Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, then Bishop of Gurk. Photo Credit

Armour of Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, then Bishop of Gurk. Photo Credit

 

Bellows-visored Maximilian armour Photo Credit

Bellows-visored Maximilian armor Photo Credit

The armor was characterized by engraving, sharply peaked breast and back plates, work taken from woodcuts, the armed helmet – closed helmets with visors that were small fan-shaped with narrow and parallel ridges – often covering most of the harness (but never the greaves), and squared foot coverings.

Another possible origin of the armor’s name is that it is associated with Maximilian II: in 1557, the last Maximilian armor was made specifically for him, seventeen years after the last general use of the armor.

Exhibit in the Higgins Armory Museum, 100 Barber Avenue, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. The museum permitted photography without any restriction, both in writing and when I asked verbally. Photo Credit

Exhibit in the Higgins Armory Museum, 100 Barber Avenue, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. The museum permitted photography without any restriction, both in writing and when I asked verbally. Photo Credit

 

Fluting and imitation slashed or quilted fabrics . Photo Credit

Fluting and imitation slashed or quilted fabrics. Photo Credit

 

Maximilan armour with grotesque mask. Photo Credit

Maximilian armor with grotesque mask. Photo Credit

The decorative armor, with its engravings and fluting, was designed to emulate the pleated clothing that was the preferred style in Europe at the time. Some armor combined long pleat-like grooves with lines of rectangular silhouettes duplicating fashionable materials decorated with slashing or quilting.

In 15th and especially 16th-century Europe, armor was built not only to provide protection to the wearer but also to be visually striking in battle. The trending Maximilian armor combined the curved, smooth Italian style of armor with the German ridged style.

Maximilian field armor with visor for ceremony and tournament, south Germany, 1510-1520 – Higgins Armory Museum . Photo Credit

Maximilian field armor with visor for ceremony and tournament, south Germany, 1510-1520 – Higgins Armory Museum. Photo Credit

 

Maximilian Gothic armour Photo Credit

Maximilian Gothic armor Photo Credit

 

This is a Raven’s Beak or warhammer, exhibited in the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. Photo Credit

This is a Raven’s Beak or warhammer, exhibited in the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. Photo Credit

An early style of Maximilian armor was called Schott-Sonnenberg style armor by the historian Oakeshott. This Maximilian style could be worn with a war helmet and with either no fluting or with the wolfzähne (wolf teeth) style fluting.

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This transitional style of armor was worn from 1500 to 1520 and the authentic Maximilian armor was worn from 1515 to 1525.