By: Paul Langdon
The Saint Louis Art Museum’s new ticketed exhibition, Age of Armor: Treasures from the Higgins Armory Collection at the Worcester Art Museum, explores the history and artistry of defensive armor from Europe and around the world. This exhibit combines highlights from the Worcester Museum with other loaned items and objects from the Saint Louis Art Museum’s permanent collection.
“We’ve supplemented the show with paintings, prints, tapestries, and armor from our own collection,” says David Conradsen, SLAM’s Grace L. Brumbaugh and Richard E. Brumbaugh Curator of Decorative Arts and Design. Illustrations of people wearing armor like what’s displayed throughout the exhibit gives visitors an idea of how these metallic articles of clothing were used. “There’s a strong relationship between armor for war, armor for sport, and fashion. So, armor was very much contemporary clothing. It was ornamented and worn not just on the battle field but in sport and around the court. You would wear armor with clothing elements to show your status; to show your fashion sense and taste.”
Some of the most dramatic pieces of armor on show are the suits used for jousting, which would include broad shoulder pieces meant to protect the wearer’s left arm and chest from the business end of their opponent’s lance. Horses also had armor designed to safeguard their vulnerable areas and to make them look as imposing as possible. When visitors come face to face with the Rennzeug suit mounted upon a massive armored steed, it’s easy to understand just how menacing this gear could make its wearers.
An exciting aspect of this exhibit that further sets it apart from the typical experiences one can expect in an art museum is that there are interactive elements. “You’re going to get to peek through a closed helmet to see what it was like in that piece of armor,” Conradsen explains. “You’ll be able to place your hand into a gauntlet, you’ll be able to feel chainmail. We have some reproductions in the gallery so you get a sense of what these materials feel like and look like.”
The range of pieces on display reaches back to ancient times with an Egyptian ax from roughly 4000 year ago. But visitors will also recognize some recent additions. “We run it right up to the present day with armor that’s used by the US Infantry today. We’ve also spiced it up with some intriguing elements bringing the show up to the very contemporary with Black Panther and Storm Trooper, which are reflections of earlier armor but in a pop culture sort of way.” Echoes of armor from throughout history reverberates through many facets of modern life, including warfare, sports, and even recent blockbuster movies.
Age of Armor: Treasures from the Higgins Armory Collection at the Worcester Art Museum continues at the Saint Louis Art Museum through May 14, 2023. For ticket information and further details about this and other exhibits, please visit www.slam.org.