Shaffron (Horse's Head Defense) of Henry II of France, When Dauphin

Armorer: Attributed to Romain des Ursins (Italian, Milan, recorded in Lyon 1493–95)

Date: ca. 1490–1500, redecorated 1539

Culture: Franco-Italian

Medium: Steel, gold, brass

Dimensions: H. 27 1/2 in. (69.8 cm); W. 15 in. (38.1 cm); Wt. 5 lb. 3 oz. (2350 g)

Classification: Equestrian Equipment-Shaffrons

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1904

Accession Number: 04.3.253


In the Renaissance, "heroic" armor, including horse armor, of fantastic form was intended to allude to the heroes of literature and legend, and was employed in tournaments, ceremonial entries, and court pageants. This shaffron, in the shape of a dragon with rippling snout and cheekpieces simulating an open mouth with bared teeth, was made at the end of the fifteenth century, perhaps for the French court, by a Milanese armorer working in France. It is among the earliest surviving examples of parade armor in the "heroic style." Probably because of its unusual appeal, the shaffron was reused and redecorated almost half a century later. Its gilt, gold-damascened, and blued decoration—including a fleur-de-lis, the letter "H," dolphins, and the date 1539—leaves no doubt that it was intended for use by the dauphin Henry of France (1519–1559), one of the greatest French patrons of the armorer's art, who assumed the throne as King Henry II in 1547. This royal shaffron can probably be associated with events connected with the tour of France made by Emperor Charles V in 1539, during which the dauphin was in constant attendance. The reuse of an older piece of armor, redecorated for this occasion, suggests that there was considerable haste in the assembly of the necessary equipment for the ceremonies and tournaments held in honor of the emperor.