This preparatory drawing depicts the front saddle steel of one of the most lavishly decorated armor garnitures of the sixteenth century, made for Alessandro Farnese (1545–1592), duke of Parma and Piacenza. The complete armor for man and horse is in the Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer (Court Hunting Cabinet and Armory) of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. It was made by the Milanese armorer and goldsmith Lucio Piccinino about 1575–80.
The exuberantly detailed Mannerist ornament represented in the lifesize drawing was rendered on the armor by low-relief embossing, with the principal figures silvered, the ornamental enframements gilt, damascened in gold, and the background blued to create an overall spatial and coloristic effect of amazing richness. Other designs for the various parts of the Farnese armor, of which this drawing is among the finest, are now dispersed among public and private collections in the United States and Europe. Preparatory drawings for armor are exceptionally rare. The only examples comparable to the Farnese group in scope and quality are the sketches by Albrecht Dürer for a silvered armor commissioned by Emperor Maximilian I in about 1515, and an extensive series by Étienne Delaune and other court artists made for the Valois kings of France between 1545 and 1570.