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Rare medieval equestrian armour goes on display for first time in a century

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It is one of only three complete medieval equestrian armour displays in the world. Now, the 15th-century masterpiece can be viewed by the public for the first time in over 100 years.

The unveiling took place at the Wallace Collection in London in late October as part of a campaign by the museum to boost visitor numbers. In collaboration with exhibition design studio Nissen Richards, it has been carefully reassembled by curators, who have positioned it in the centre courtyard of the Collection’s Hertford House building.

The
armour on display in the
courtyard of London’s
Wallace Collection. It
was acquired by the
museum’s namesake, Sir
Richard Wallace, in 1871.
The armour on display in the courtyard of London’s Wallace Collection. It
was acquired by the museum’s namesake, Sir Richard Wallace, in 1871.

Until the 19th century, the armour was preserved at Schloss Hohenaschau in Bavaria, the ancestral home of the Freyberg nobility. Sold at auction around 1850, it was in 1867 acquired by French sculptor Comte de Nieuwerkerke, who displayed it in his apartment at the Louvre in Paris.

There it was studied by many artists, serving as a standard for illustrations in encyclopaedias and history books for decades. In 1871, it was sold, along with the rest of the Nieuwerkerke collection, to Sir Richard Wallace, an English art collector. Following his death in 1890, his wife Lady Wallace donated his collection to the nation.

Situated in the couple’s former residence in London’s Manchester Square, the Wallace Collection now boasts one of the most significant assemblages of fine and decorative arts in the world. As such, it is a natural home for such a rare display. And as a large centrepiece for the courtyard café, it has found a secondary role in helping to maintain social distancing between visitors.

‘This armour is a world famous image of the medieval European knight,’ said Dr Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour at the Wallace Collection.

‘Only three full equestrian armours made before the 16th century survive in the world today, and this is the only one preserved complete, as originally made,’ he added.

‘It was meant to be seen in the open, in natural light; and for the first time in living memory, our visitors will be able to see it that way too.’

For more information about the Wallace Collection, see the museum’s website.

This is an article from the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.


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