Art Institute Chicago - The Armor Room

The Art Institute is easily recognized by the pair of life-size bronze lions guarding the entry, which were a gift from Mrs. Henry Field when the building was rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire. I find the Textile Gallery closed (there’s always something closed!). The Decorative Arts gallery has a piece of office furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I later found out that he also designed bric-a-brac for his homes, and even the gowns his wife wore … but I digress…

The Armor Room houses one of the best collections I have seen to date. The showpiece of this room is a pair of full size horses - one in tournament bardings and the other armored for combat. It’s a great way to show the contrast between the two. Horses for combat (called heavy horse—which you may or may not recognize as a Jethro Tull album cover) were generally stockier breeds, and were trained differently from horses used in jousts and tournaments. I found it a fascinating comparison in gear and trappings.

Tournament Horse, German circa 1520
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

I was closely watched by security guards as I contorted to get shots of the horseshoes, stirrups and knight’s spurs on this pair. Some of the other galleries had alarms that would go off if you got too close. Needless to say, I have become very fond of the zoom feature on my camera.

Horse armor, German circa 1520
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

At the back of the room stand a pair of knights, complete with fairly ridiculous helm plumage, facing off against each other with pole arms - a hand-to-hand fighting style that was a lesser known tournament sport during the High Middle Ages. Tournaments were for show, but it was also one of the ways knights kept their skills sharp between battles.

Knight on foot
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

I was fascinated by a set of armor sized for a five-year old child, which I presume was made for either parade or royal portraiture. I did not see a child-sized helmet to go with it.

There was also a massive “collar for the hunt” made from brass and iron, lined with leather and silk, which measured 10-12” across and may have been made for an Irish Wolfhound. The same display case also showed a hunting horn, and a crossbow crank – the first one I had ever seen. A lot of the armor in this room was German, 15th-16th century.

Collar for the Hunt, German, circa 1680
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

I spent about two hours in this room. The pieces well laid out, set in context and with enough room to be able to see a lot of detail. Be sure to pull out the drawers towards the end of the exhibit to view additional pieces from the 16th-17th centuries, mostly firearms.

My collection of personal photos is boarded to Pinterest. You can also see the individual pieces in the Art Institute’s online catalog.

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Heather Daveno

Heather Daveno is from Seattle, Washington, where she works as an office manager by day and a self taught hatmaker by night. Her travels inspire her hats, which she handcrafts from reclaimed textiles and found objects. You can find her hats and full texts of her travel journals at August Phoenix Hats, with links to additional travel photos at Daveno Travels.