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2008 | 56 | 2 | 197-206

Article title

FIFTEENTH-CENTURY SPURS WITH PROTECTIVE HEEL BANDS IN CENTRAL EUROPE (Znaleziska ostróg z zapietkami w Europie Srodkowej z drugiej polowy XV wieku)

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The mid 15th century saw a very interesting type of spurs appear in Europe. The shape and decoration of the preserved specimens place them among the most attractive Gothic designs in knight's equipment. The best known example is a pair of spurs with matching stirrups exhibited in Waffensammlung in Vienna. In European museums there are at least 43 spurs or fragments of spurs that type, differing in the shape of the heel band and in decoration. They come from old armouries or were excavated in Central Europe, mostly in the territories of the former Kingdoms of Poland, Bohemia and Hungary. Unfortunately, none of those specimen, apart from the pair of spurs that probably belonged to King Casimir IV Jagiellon (1454) and the finds from Puck (2nd half of 15th c.) and Inowlodz (probably 2nd half of 15th c.), can be exactly dated. The shape of this particular type of spurs can be identified in several pictures painted between 1430 and the early 16th c., most of them dated to the 1450s-1470s. The most interesting example is the picture of St George fighting with the dragon from Slowita near Zloczów (Little Poland). It was painted by a local panel painter about 1453. The picture is considered a proof of Western models being swiftly adopted by Little Poland painters, since the scene is modelled on a copperplate by the Master of Playing Cards (from the Nuremberg circle), dated to 1440-1450. For our purposes, however, the most important aspect of the painting is the shape of spurs. Interestingly, the Little Poland painter did not copy the German original in this respect and depicted spurs shaped very similarly to the type discussed here. Spurs can be found in the depictions of saints, most commonly of St George, the patron of knights, of magnates and rich knights, but also, though less frequently, of less affluent knights and of squires (The Triptych of Holy Trinity – St Paul's Conversion) or even of a servant (The Triptych of the Sending of Angels). The figures wearing spurs are not always shown in full plate armour. In some cases the painters highlighted the spurs with the yellow or golden colour, symbolizing their decorative character. The above-mentioned pictures were painted in the Kingdom of Poland (Little Poland, Great Poland, Wielun county), in the Kingdom of Bohemia (Silesia, Bohemia) and the Holy Roman Empire (Germany). Those are also the regions in which the original artefacts have been found. The back part of the spur yoke began to be enlarged at least since the mid 14th c. It seems that with the emergence and spread of the full-body plate armour spur manufacturers in various cultures tried to modify their products to meet the current needs of protective weaponry. The type of spurs discussed here had a wide heel band surrounding and protecting all of the rider's heel, with the upper edge of the band mirroring the shape of the lower part of the greaves. Such an arrangement might have been the final development of armoury, providing all the necessary protection. In everyday practice, however, this form of spurs was most frequently used to supplement reduced plate armour. An example of that is the picture from Wielun, in which St George is shown wearing chain-mail armour with poleyns and heel-band spurs as extra protection for the legs. It is possible that this type of spurs, used to protect the heels by less affluent knights, was also a symbolic substitute of full plate armour and the affluence that it signified. Some of the artefacts in question, which were richly decorated (e.g. the above mentioned spurs ascribed to King Casimir Jagiellon), were probably primarily used on ceremonial occasions and as gifts, very special to both the recipient and the giver. Since they were worn by prominent personages on festive occasions, they must have had some influence on the knightly culture of the Middle Ages. Many researchers are of the opinion that all the richly decorated spurs of the discussed type were products of Prague artisans of the mid 15th c. It is reasonable to ask, however, if a single manufacturing centre could have influenced the knightly fashion in one third of Europe to an extent that even found a reflection in art. This is not impossible, but it is more likely that it only initiated a certain interesting cultural phenomenon through exporting beautifully shaped ornate spurs. Considering all the aspects of the phenomenon in question (the appearance of this type of spurs in Europe in the mid 15th c., the dating of the above-mentioned iconographic sources to the years 1450-1470 and the area from which they come), one is tempted to hypothesize that the spurs ascribed to Casimir Jagiellon, which he probably wore at his wedding in Cracow in 1545, popularized this type of spurs in the territories connected with the King directly (the Kingdom of Poland) or indirectly (Pomerania and Warmia because of the war with the Teutonic Order, Bohemia and Hungary because of the dynastic policy of the Jagiellons). The popularity of this piece of armour could have resulted from the court and knightly circles trying to imitate and equal the person highest in the social hierarchy. This would be a very interesting example of a particular historical figure influencing the fashion of his times.








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  • Wlodzimierz Pela, Muzeum Historyczne m. st. Warszawy, Rynek Starego Miasta 28-42, 00-272 Warszawa, Poland


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