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Behind the Scenes: Foot Soldiers of Fashion

Forget toy soldiers—try them in steel and paper!

Landsknechte: Foot Soldiers of Fashion is a bold new collaborative installation featuring fifteen spectacular pieces of 16th-century arms and armor, commingled with dozens of engravings and woodcuts. This cohabitation reveals their mercenary wearers' bawdy flirtations, sartorial excesses, and violent misadventures. And seizing an unusual opportunity, it also fills a gap following the recent closure of the arms and armor gallery. Until the opening of the Deering Family Galleries of Medieval and Renaissance Art, Arms, and Armor in March 2017, almost no armor would otherwise have been on public view.

The following photo essay offers a behind-the-scenes peek at the conception and installation process of this collaboration between Jonathan Tavares, Associate Curator of Arms and Armor, and Suzanne Karr Schmidt, Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings.    

Integrating different types of media was always key. From the outset, the curators developed the checklist together, emphasizing prints that specifically depicted the types of weapons and armor, or the battlefield roles of Landsknechte (or “land servants”) who would have used them. Some of the earliest depictions were already in the collection by major graphic artists like Albrecht Dürer, whose c. 1500 Standard Bearer graces our poster with great aplomb. 

Once the project was approved, the curators worked through the initial designs on paper the actual size of the cases, seen here with a facsimile of the hand-colored Urs Graf print loan. This preliminary layout shows the codpieces and the newly-acquired Katzbalger sword on the opposite side of where they were eventually installed. 

While the two-dimensional prints were matted, framed, and either hung directly on the walls or mounted on wedges, the weapons and armor (as the halberd, Swiss saber, and breastplate with long tassets seen above) required intricate metal mounts for correct and lively positioning. Andrew Talley, the museum mountmaker, on the left, and Jonathan Tavares on the right, check the depth to be sure that the breastplate fit comfortably within the external Plexiglas bonnet.

After several days of installation with the help of art handlers, conservators, collection managers, and many others, these flamboyant mercenaries were more than ready for their closeup. And there's much more to see! Landsknechte: Foot Soldiers of Fashion will be on view until November 4.

And please join the curators for a tag-team lecture in Price Auditorium on August 12, followed by questions in the gallery.