Discovering the Art of Armor in Worcester Massachusetts
By Barbara Rizza Mellin
When the famed Higgins Armory in Worcester, Massachusetts, closed its doors in 2014 after 83 years, the Worcester Art Museum, like a knight in shining armor (pun intended), came to the rescue, welcoming nearly 2,000 pieces from the venerable collection to join their world-class museum. Nora Maroulis, Director of Philanthropy, calls it a “transformative moment” for the Worcester Museum.
Works from the collection are now installed in the museum’s newly redesigned Medieval Galleries, which has recently reopened after being closed for two years.
Among the works are full and three-quarter sets of armor, helmets, and weaponry. While these items were ostensibly created for warfare, they are also magnificent works of metal art and can be viewed almost as sculpture. As former curator at the Higgins Armory Museum and now Worcester’s curator, Jeffrey Forgeng says armor is “the unity of form and function, a seamless marriage between the two.”
Often the maker or wearer remain anonymous, but we know that a custom-made suit for “field and tilt” for Austrian nobleman, Count Franz von Teuffenbach, was completed in 1554 by Stefan Rormoser of Innsbruck, whose initials SR are stamped at the nape of the neck. The breastplate for von Teuffenback, a military figure in the Habsburg Empire, displays the “Berberorden,” a military honor awarded for his participation in the conquest of Tunis in 1535.
One suit from a Garniture, c. 1590, comes with a plumed helmet. The suit was meant for battle, but various “pieces of exchange” could have been substituted for parts of this armor to accommodate jousting or sports combat. Many pieces are elaborately designed, reflecting their role in fashion. In fact, English aristocrats, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, turned to Milan for the latest looks in stylish armor.
While much armor was certainly intended for battle, some suits were worn only for special occasions, such as the ceremonial half-armor (1550-1575), attributed to Etienne Delaune (French, c. 1519-1583). This partial suit is decorated with multiple raised figures from ancient mythology.
As weaponry, battle tactics and fashion styles changed, so did armor. The three-quarter armor for a Cuirassier (1610-1620), or cavalry soldier, reflects a suit adjusted for changes toward mounted warfare.
This assimilation of the Higgins Armory Collection seems a most appropriate move for the Worcester Art Museum, which in 1927 was the first museum to bring a medieval building to America. For the historical military or medieval enthusiast, this should be added to your must-see list.
Barbara Rizza Mellin is a local artist and art historian, who writes about art, travel and culture for local and national publications. You can view her artwork at the Captain White House, Alamance Arts, Graham, N.C. through Mar. 3; at Artworks Gallery, Trade St. Winston Salem; and on her website: www.BarbaraRizzaMellin.com.
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