A Century of Giving
Renaissance Parade Helmet
embossed steel with gilded details, 31.4 x 20.2 x 29.3 cm
The Fitzwilliam Museum: M.19-1938
This steel helmet was made in the workshop of the Negroli family, who worked in Milan in the mid-16th century and specialized in the production of ceremonial armour. Their clientele included the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis I of France and the dukes of Urbino.
The Negroli produced stylish, intricately worked helmets, cuirasses and shields, decorated all'antica' - intended to give the wearer the air of a Roman emperor or general, or a mythological figure such as Hercules.
This is a 'parade burgonet'. The lion's mask - reminiscent of a Roman gladiator's visor - has no eye holes and was clearly not designed for battle The skull is embossed with allegorical figures of Fame and Victory and the comb is decorated in High Renaissance style with trophies, musical instruments, weapons, and a Greek inscription in gold.
Although very likely to have had a distinguished owner, the history of this helmet remains obscure. Bought in 1935, at a sale of so-called 'theatrical junk', it was the very first acquisition by the Friends for the new Armour Department, housed in the Henderson Gallery.
This new purpose-built gallery was named after James Stewart Henderson who, at Cockerell's persuasion, had bequeathed his armour collection and donated the money for a new building. Many of the early acquisitions for this newest department - such as the German Calendar sword and Executioner's sword - came via the Friends fund.
The Fitzwilliam's first Honorary Keeper of Armour was Sir James Mann, later Master of the Armouries at the Tower of London. Today, this is one of the prime repositories for armour outside London.