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With the conclusion of three conferences in two months in two states, the long awaited blog is back! To continue with the construction of the Kunst Schott von Hellingen Breastplate, we last left off with the individual plates ready for polishing, decoration and patination.
The original breastplate features an engraving of Kunst Schott’s family coat of arms. However, while this engraving’s historical provenance is uncertain, the feature appealed to my client and he agreed that he wanted his coat of arms on his armour. After a little research, I picked up my can of Krylon high heat matte white spray paint and applied coverage to the upper area of the breastplate. The matte white surface is excellent drawing surface which allows for detailed planning for the design. Once a pencil sketch is made, the lines are gone over with a sharpened steel pointed tip which scratches fine lines through the paint. The rest of the process is a simple 4 hour acid etching using undiluted ferric chloride! Results are historically accurate and comparable to many similar etchings found in museums.
The next decorative step uses matching chased areas of the overlapping tassets. Chasing was a commonly used technique in armoursmithing to provide structural rigidity to individual plates without adding weight. German Gothic armour was famous for its use and the craftspeople at the Nuremburg armoury would have been quite familiar in its use. However, this armour is emblematic of the Transitional style because it contains so little of the technique in respect to the preceding Gothic and antecedent Maximillian style. But, what few chased embellishment there is serves a purpose to strengthen the two bottom lames of the tassets. The process itself is rather simple. Once the lines are drawn in the interior of the armour, a blunted chisel is used as a chasing tool to hammer into a soft block of lead. This is a much more traditional means of producing the lines, but the use of lead might not be preferred by all modern craftspeople. Standard pitch can be used instead.
With the decoration finished, the finalizing construction can begin. This is a slow careful process which requires each piece being matched to one another. As the matching plates are placed, leather strips are measured and cut to line up with drilled holes in the plates. The leather strips permit the articulation of the various lames to match with the wearer’s movements.
It’s at these moments in a project that attention to detail is critical and this instance was no exception. While taking a break in the construction, a higher resolution image of the historical original came to my attention. The photograph showed a startling realization: I had made the shoulder lames wrong. The edges of the plates had been incorrectly rolled, permitting a thrust to the torso to travel up into the underarm. This is a moment that defines the difference between aesthetics and function. A decision had to be made.
To be continued…