Hollywood might give the impression that armour of old served a purely functional purpose. The Iron Men exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) demonstrates that the reality is more complicated (and beautiful).
- Explores the art, culture, and wider role of renaissance armour
- Also takes you through mechanics like how it was made (and worn)
- Around 170 objects in total
- Needs an additional timeslot ticket from the museum
- Runs Mar 29 – Jun 26, 2022
- See also:
Fashion in Steel
(Landsknecht Harness for Wilhelm von Rogendorf; Kolman Helmschmid, Augsburg, 1523; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Imperial Armoury; © KHM-Museumsverband)
Rivulets of blood running down unadorned steel dominate many screen representations of armour in the days of swords, shields, and poor sanitation.
Yet once you think of armour as clothing, the idea that it did little more than protect the wearer seems intrinsically illogical.
Just as we might wear different clothes for work, leisure and festivities, so it was with armour. Albeit only among those who could afford it.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum’s exhibition sheds light on the more artistic and cultural aspects of renaissance armour.
Iron Men explains armour’s role in communicating political and dynastic power. Armour as a gift in European diplomacy. Armour as an expression of personality. And armour as a fashion statement made in custom steel.
The kind of extraordinarily decorative and rare breastplates and similar that might illustrate such concepts can be hard to come by.
Fortunately for us, the museum can draw on its own astonishing Hofjagd und Rüstkammer collection (a treasure trove of ceremonial and tournament armour) along with loan objects from other prestigious institutions.
The craftsmanship on display demonstrates that renaissance genius found expression on more than just paper and canvas.
Iron Men also looks a little at the mechanics of armour manufacture and use, even down to the role of undergarments.
A trip round the exhibition also throws up little unexpected revelations. For example:
- Do you imagine ladies handed over small silk handkerchiefs as tokens for knights to carry on their tournament lances? A small display case demonstrates that these “faveurs” involved far more elaborate fabric-based designs.
- Most armour was neither particularly heavy or inflexible, as demonstrated by a lively video of an armoured man doing star jumps, climbing ladders and even performing dance moves. The image of a knight floundering on his back like an upturned fly seems largely to be a myth.
- Even armoured monarchs cannot deny their humanity: many an armour fit badly thanks to its purchaser eating one too many roast hogs after the order went in.
The exhibition ends in a shop with toys, models, books and other items. I was THIS close to buying a sword-shaped cheese grater.
Tickets, dates & tips
Enjoy the skills of renaissance artisans and engravers from March 29th to June 26th, 2022.
You need an entrance ticket* for the museum, of course, but Iron Men also requires an extra €3 ticket with an allocated timeslot for when you can go into the exhibition (you can stay as long as you like).
Purchase your timeslot direct from the museum (either online or on site: from a ticket counter or at the entrance to the exhibition area). I visited on a Tuesday morning in April and got a timeslot for immediate entry.
Once outside, consider crossing over the road to the Neue Burg wing of the Hofburg complex to visit the Imperial Armoury mentioned earlier.
How to get to the armour
See the main Kunsthistorisches Museum article for travel tips. Once inside, go up to the floor with the picture galleries to find the Iron Men exhibition
Address: Burgring 7, 1010 Vienna