Body armour is far more than protection. Across time and cultures, the highest-quality armour has always been a combination of art, technology and personality. Centring on the exceptional Renaissance arms and armour collection of the Museo Stibbert in Florence, Italy, and enhanced with modern examples, this exhibition highlights many facets of armour — on the battlefield, and as sports equipment, status symbol and pop-culture fantasy.
An exhibition developed by Contemporanea Progetti in collaboration with the Museo Stibbert (Florence, Italy) and the Canadian War Museum.
The Anatomy of Armour
A full suit of armour usually had 12 to 14 components, and weighed between 18 and 20 kilograms. This is less than the weight of the protective gear worn by today’s firefighters and soldiers.
A fully armoured person could still jump, run and fight freely, thanks to the many articulations, hinges and straps that made the suit flexible where it counted.
Although it may look heavy, the average medieval sword weighed only 1 to 1.5 kilograms — about as much as a large bunch of bananas, and less than a Chihuahua.
Sallets in Space
What inspired the helmets worn by Darth Vader and other villains in George Lucas’ Star Wars movies? The ancient samurai kabuto? The 20th century German Stahlhelm (steel helmet)? Maybe the sallet, a battle helmet that originated in Italy during the early 1400s? These styles all curve outwards to protect the neck, and the Stahlhelm, originally developed for trench warfare in the First World War, was based on the medieval sallet.
Armour for Animals
Protective armour for horses dates back thousands of years, but did you know it was also used to protect elephants and dogs?
Armour From Animals
Turtles, porcupines, armadillos, snails, rhinoceros, beetles and crocodiles are among the many animal species with built-in defences that have served as inspiration for armour. But scientists and engineers have also studied fish scales, sea sponges, snakes and butterflies while working on the next generation of lightweight armour.
Kevlar, the tough but lightweight synthetic fibre in bulletproof vests, is also used in bicycle tires, canoes, table-tennis paddles, archery bow strings, woodwind reeds, brake pads, sails, wind turbines and more.
Relieving yourself is probably not top-of-mind in the heat of battle, but at any other time, it would be like having to go when you’re wearing a snowsuit — you’d have to remove a few layers first!
Mark your calendar
About Frederick Stibbert and the Museo Stibbert
Frederick Stibbert was an Anglo-Italian collector born in Florence, Italy in 1838. An inheritance from his grandfather, who was Commander-in-Chief of the British East India Company’s private army, allowed him to pursue his passion for art, armour, weaponry, the restoration of artifacts, and the organization of medieval and Renaissance re-enactments.
Stibbert ultimately transformed his hillside villa and park into the Museo Stibbert. Its collection of nearly 50,000 items — with special emphasis on European, Islamic and Japanese arms and armour from the 15th to 19th centuries — also includes paintings, ceramics, costumes, tapestries, furniture and other decorative arts, as well as archaeological items, musical instruments and liturgical objects. When he died in 1906, Stibbert left the museum to the Municipality of Florence, to improve public knowledge of history for the benefit of future generations.