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Sir Lance-lot

In a trip through the galleries, Erin H. and I were in the new arms and armor galleries (previously discussed here by the curator) staring up at the mounted knight’s lance and wondering how this 12-foot lance was actually supported. There’s no wire, and the lance has to be pretty heavy. While it is obvious that the lance is supported by the “hand” of the knight, it’s not actually attached to anything. So instead of conjecturing blindly, we went straight to the source.

Jane N., the Arms and Armor Collection Manager who has been with the department for 20 years, can tell you everything you want to know about George Harding, his collection, and the castle—complete with dungeon—that he built on the South Side of Chicago to house his collection, which came to the Art Institute after he died. But the castle wasn’t on the agenda for this particular conversation. First, Jane described the mount inside the armor. The mount is a custom form that provides support and stability, keeping the knight in the correct position and securing the lance in a vertical position. In this case, the mount is shaped like a horseshoe over the horse mannequin and then extends all the way up through the right arm to support the lance. To the viewer, the mount is almost completely invisible.

Next, Jane told me about the context of the piece. As you can see from the picture above, the knight (and horse) are fully armored and appear to be heading straight into a jousting tournament. If you think of re-creations you may have seen (in movies or theme restaurants, for example) of medieval tournaments, you may recall two knights riding full speed at each other with their lances parallel to the ground. If these lances had been very heavy, the knights would never have been able to carry them. Additionally, since the purpose of the joust was to un-horse the opposing knight (and not kill him), the lances were meant to be theatrically broken in the process. So the lances were hollow (which makes them much lighter) and made of wood. Each lance weighs in at approximately 10 pounds, which makes it fairly simple for our knight to support the weight.

Mystery solved!

© Annie Sturgis Photography