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LOT 0459

GBP (£) 3,000 - 4,000
EUR (€) 3,490 - 4,650
USD ($) 3,850 - 5,130

Bid History: 1   |   Current bid: £3,000
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Medieval Transitional Bascinet Helmet

Circa 1340 AD

A Western medieval cervelliere or early bascinet skull in iron, probably Italian, the dome bowl following the shape of the skull, narrower on the front and wider at the occipital bone; the protection of the area is wider than in the usual cervelliere, and all around the rim of the helmet the fastening holes to the inner felt or leather lining, or the sewing to a textile cap, are visible. 881 grams, 22cm (8 1/2"). Fine condition. Extremely rare.

From an important private family collection of arms and armour; acquired on the European art market in the 1980s, and thence by descent; accompanied by an academic report by military specialist Dr Raffaele D'Amato.

See Boccia G.L., Rossi F., Morin M., Armi e Armature Lombarde, Milano, 1980; Nicolle, D., Italian Medieval Armies, 1300-1500, London, 1983; Vignola, M., I reperti metallici del castello superiore di Attimis, in Quaderni Friulani,di Archeologia, XIII, 2003, pp.63-81; Scalini, M., A bon droyt, Spade di uomini liberi, cavalieri e Santi/Epées d'hommes libres, chevaliers et saints, Milano, 2007.

The cervelliere was a very common Italian skull protection since the 13th century onwards, made of metal and shaped like a simple skull. It (from Latin cervellerium, cerebrarium, cerebrerium or cerebotarium) was a helmet basic typology developed in Middle Ages. It was made of a single piece of cup-shaped metal covering the top of the skull and could be worn over or under the hauberk and other typologies of heavier helmets. Over time, the cervelliere experienced several evolutions. Many helmets became increasingly pointed and the back of the skull cap elongated to cover the neck, thus developing into the bascinet. The skull protection of our specimen has parallels with the helmets worn by the warriors represented in the killing of the innocents painted in the Church of Saint'Abbondio, Como, dated at 1340 AD (Boccia, Rossi, Morin, fig.10 pp.30-31), which Boccia correctly classified like cervelliere.

This specimen is therefore still a cervelliere, or eventually an early form of bascinet of which the cervelliere was the ancestor, although this specimen begins the transformation of the simple skull in the wider bowl that, fitted with a peak, will give origin to the bascinet. Its conformation distinguishes it from the various similar head protections classified as bascinet in the 15th century. The statement that we are still dealing with a cervelliere is based on the morphological data of the object. The shape, above all, is markedly hemispherical, tightening towards the front and falling slightly on the nape. A similar skull is visible on the cerviellere found in the castle of Attimis (Italy, Trentino Alto-Adige), recently published by Vignola (Vignola, 2003, pp.66 ff.). Differently from the usual cervelliere, the bowl shows side protections, and the sides are protecting also the ears, which is not the characteristic of the usual cervelliere. The type then turned out to define in anatomical way and adherent to the skull. Another characteristic trend is the series of holes visible all along the lower edge, from front to the neck. Correctly Vignola suggested, by analysing the specimen of Attimis, that such parallel holes were destined to receive the sewing, to fasten the helmet with a falsata (padded or quilted headgear). The presence of similar holes in the other helmets of the same category was absolutely fundamental to allow a similar helmet to be worn, as well as to absorb the trauma of a stroke directed towards the plain surface of the cervelliere skull. The falsata had probability the possibility to be fitted with stripes for the protection of the nape, and of thongs to fasten the helmet under chin, too. Moreover, a cap was sometimes worn over the helmet, forming an external textile headgear prolonged over the ears (Nicolle, 1983, pl.B2), often visible in the iconography of the period and considered like a civilian cap by many art historians not particularly skilled in the military equipment study.

Most probably our specimen is from a battlefield or a river find. The piece is in good condition and considering the rarity a high start price is expected. Under the profile of the chronology such protections for the head had a long life, from 13th until 16th century, however, conforming with the date proposed by Vignola for the piece of Attimis, the specific morphology of the helmet found precise elements of comparison with the 14th century iconography. By looking at the helmet from the sides, it shows a typical gleaning towards the lower edge, raising to the brow part. This is visible on many cervelliere and bascinets of the 14th century, on the prototypes visible in the so-called biadaiolo (code of the mid-14th century) of the Medicean Laurentian Library in Florence, in the already quoted frescoes of Saint Abbondius and even in some cervelliere represented in the Manesse Code.

The ancient sources call such type of objects bascinet, having the shape of a basin or basin without lip, although the shape of the helmet that is modernly designated with this name, has a rather ogival shape as for the head gears of the second half of the fourteenth century. Cervelliere or early bascinets like our specimen, may be dated to the first half of the 14th century, but the formal adherence to the progression of the skull makes it difficult to secure a chronological staggering. However, an artifact examined by Scalini, datable to 1330, from Perugia, shows protective side parts like this specimen, which descend to protect the ears, and allowed also a more comfortable overlap to the knitted shirt. This specimen was used to draw water from a well, until that is was not recognised for its importance. (Scalini, 2007, pp.106-107). Anecdotally, medieval literature credits the invention of the cervellière to astrologer Michael Scot (Michele Scoto) in 1223. This history is not seriously entertained by most scholars, but in the Chronicon Nonantulanum is recorded that the astrologer devised the iron-plate cap shortly before his own predicted death, which he still inevitably met when a stone weighing two ounces fell on his protected head.

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Bid History: 1   |   Current bid: £3,000

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