European Helmets, 1450 1650: Treasures from the Reserve Collection
Helmets are the earliest known form of body armor and remain today an essential element of protection not only for soldiers but also for sportsmen. In the later Middle Ages and Renaissance, helmet design reached its apogee, the European armorer creating head defenses of ingenious construction and powerful sculptural form. Whether intended for aristocratic mounted knights or humble infantrymen, helmets had to provide maximum defense for the most vital—and vulnerable—part of the body while offering reasonable comfort with adequate sight and ventilation. The forging of a helmet was thus the armorer's greatest challenge and, very often, his finest achievement. A well-made helmet balances the practical function of defense with the aesthetics of line and mass. The Metropolitan Museum's holdings of European helmets are among the largest and most diverse in the world. This exhibition offers a representative survey of some seventy-five helmets drawn entirely from storage, revealing the depth of the collection and a glimpse of objects that are rarely on public display.