Every aspect of this helmet's decoration proclaims the confidence and grandeur of its wearer, from the personifications of Victory and Fame on either side, to the trophies that adorn the crest.
It is all the more ironic, then, that it first came to light in England in 1935, at a sale of theatrical junk. Perhaps it was the rather corroded state that led to its being so carelessly dismissed back then. It would have originally looked much more splendid, with many of its decorative elements picked out in gold. You can just still see traces of this today.
Judging from its style and quality, it is a product of the celebrated celebrated sixteenth-century Milanese armoury run by Filippo Negroli.
It is called a burgonet, a lightweight helmet usually used by cavalry, but this lavish example could never have felt the heat of battle. The stern, leonine face on the visor may well have instilled fear into an enemy, but it would have been quite impossible to see through. The lion’s face alludes to an adventure of the ancient hero Hercules.
Having throttled the ferocious lion of Nemea, as the first of his Twelve Labours, he thereafter wore its impregnable pelt as armour, the lion's head protecting his own. Since ancient times, political leaders had sought to identify themselves with this hero. Renaissance rulers followed this ancient trend. The Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, for example, dubs himself Hercules Germanicus, the German Hercules, and had himself portrayed as the hero. It seems that the owner of this piece was keen to promote himself in a similar light.
The transcription of the audio file for this stop was enabled by the AHRC funded crowd-sourcing platform MicroPasts. The below generously gave their time to transcribe the file.
Chris Gibbon, Terence Gould and Adi Levin