Shaffron (Horse's Head Defense)

Date: ca. 1560–70

Geography: probably Brescia

Culture: Italian, probably Brescia

Medium: Steel, brass, leather

Dimensions: H. 24 7/8 in. (63.2 cm); W. 12 1/4 in. (31.1 cm); D. 9 in. (22.9 cm); Wt. 4 lb. 11 oz. (2132 g)

Classification: Equestrian Equipment-Shaffrons

Credit Line: Gift of William H. Riggs, 1913

Accession Number: 14.25.1664


This shaffron is unusual in both construction and decoration. It appears to have been made in conscious imitation of Turkish armor of the period, which, like most contemporaneous armor worn in the Islamic world, was made of multiple small plates of iron attached by mail to form a very flexible defense. (On this example, it is in fact only the four lower plates and both sides that are constructed in this way; on the upper part of the shaffron's main plate, the separate plates are only imitated by etched bands.) The etched decoration, however, is typically Italian in its use of trophies and grotesques inspired by classical prototypes, while the style of etching and the overall covering of the armor surface with ornament appears to be a characteristic of armorers working in Brescia, the principal arms manufacturing center in the Veneto. The creation of armors constructed in emulation of Turkish examples reflects a taste for the exotic that had existed in Venice for centuries as a result of her trade with the Middle East.