Armourer Greats: Anton Peffenhauser
An Article by Freiherr Alexander Von Reitzenstein
The Augsburg armourer Anton Peffenhauser was one of the four or five most outstanding practitioners of his art in the entire sixteenth century. He stayed in the limelight for more than fifty years, from 1545 to 1603, and it is really surprising how many of his surviving worksmore than those of any of his contemporariescan be attributed to their maker with certainty, or at least with a very high degree of probability.
Peffenhauser's stylistic range varies from lush ornamentation to extreme simplicity. One of the most remarkable bas-relief armours known, believed to have been property of King Sebastian of Portugal (1554-78, killed in Morocco at the Battle of Alcazarquivir), now in the Real Armerķa, Madrid, bears his mark (Fig. 2). At this point a question arises quite naturally: did he, Peffenhauser, himself do the bas-relief chiseling, or did he provide a fine armour in the white for elaboration by an independent artist? The answer is that of the independent artist.
We know, for example, that another chiseled suit in the Real Armerķa, once property of King Philip II of Spain (1527-98), made by the master Desiderius Helmschmied in about 1549-50, was ornamented by the goldsmith Jörg Sigman, no doubt on direct solicitation of Helmschmied. In terms of their structures and architectures, these two suits are so similar that the student is led to suspect that one served as the model for the other, King Phillip's probably following King Sebastian's. But the chiseling on the Peffenhauser suit reaches a level of artistry and refinement far above that attained by Jörg Sigman on the Helmschmied armour: its plasticity is more robust and vigorous, the play of light and shadow is far richer, more colorful, and the spaces to be ornamented are generously and fluidly treated in grand style, without little patches of frills and gee-gaws.
However good the work of Jörg Sigman, its author was a goldsmithwhile the creator of the Peffenhauser ornaments would seem to have been a sculptor, an artist. Nevertheless, surface ornamentation, be it ever so ingenious and praiseworthy, always remains subordinate to the iron underbody wrought by the armourer. Even if the ornamentation were, hypothetically, eliminated, there would remain the splendid sculpture of the armour itself, a work of art in its own right.
Another example of fine etching is armour for foot combat shown in Fig. 6. It is made of blued iron and etched with gilt decoration. The etched decoration consists of large tendrils curling from a central stalk, edged with a black line and incorporating a delicate gilt leaf pattern. The Augsburg view mark appears on the breastplate. It is one of twelve made in 1590 on orders of the Electress Sofia of Saxony as a Christmas present for the Elector Christian I; here the gold-on-blue theme is used to emphasize the frontal rib of the breastplate.
But pure armourthat is, undecorated iron body covering combining maximum protection with maximum mobility, existing solely toward a functional end and relying for artistry on the perfection of its executionis the final proof of an armourer's worth. Such a work is shown in Fig. 8: a suit destined for the so-called "royal joust"; while not signed by Peffenhauser, careful comparison with similar specimens in Paris and in London, all known and signed Peffenhauser products, makes the attribution a safe one. The structure of heavy, smooth steel plates dispenses with all ornamentand indeed, there is no need of any, for the work is an organic whole complete within its own volumetrics and enobled by the clear fulfillment of the purpose for which it was created.
The tournament armour shown in Fig. 9 was comissioned by the Elector August in about 1585, for his son Christian. Made of bright iron, it is decorated with etched and gilt bands. It includes a gorget, breast- and backplates, arm-defenses, long tassets and greaves. The mail sabatons have solid toe-taps. The close-helmet with its comb has a pointed projecting visor and two laminated throat and neck lames. A half-chamfron and armoured saddle also belong to this armour. The decoration consists of bands of shallow embosed squares and rectangles in a checkered pattern, set with blackened etched lines, and bordered by narrow bands of scrolling foliage. The Augsburg view mark appears on breast- and backplates.
For these notes we have chosen but a very few of the great number of surviving works by the Augsburg master. But even these are sufficient for showing the wide range his art embraced: from the richest of parade armours to the simplest jousting suit. When he set out in his long career, barely twenty years old, in the middle of the sixteenth century, the Augsburg school was still in vigorous flower; in his old age he saw it languishing into oblivion without hope of revival.
Anton Peffenhauser was one of the few who knew how to survive in the age of armour's decline and fall, and to keep the Great Tradition alive until the very closing years of the century.
About the Author
Baron von Reitzenstein, born in 1904 in Germany, received his degree in Art History in 1928 and dedicated his career to public service and to arms-historical literature. In addition to many essays and studies, he has published books on the art of the armourers of Augsburg, Nuremberg and Landshut, i.e. Der Waffenschmied and Rittertum and Ritterschaft.