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Home | Articles | Small Wonder: A Miniature Armor by E. Granger of Paris

Fig. 1: Miniature armor after the late-16th-century style, attributed to E. Granger of Paris, 1845–1850. Steel, brass, bronze, wood, leather. H. 11 15/16 in. Courtesy of Higgins Armory Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts; photograph by Jon Jameson.

Among the holdings of the Higgins Armory Museum are miniature armors and elements. One of the finest is a suit that measures under a foot tall, built in the same exacting manner as a late-sixteenth-century armor for war [Fig. 1].1 Intricately made, the suit consists of ten finely crafted elements of armor that encase a fully jointed, leather-covered wooden mannequin with a movable and detailed cast bronze head. Multiple steel plates are fastened together with minute brass rivets, washers, iron pins, catches, and hinges. The helmet has hinged cheekpieces, the arm and leg defenses articulate fully, and the gauntlets have miniscule scales on thumbs and fingers, the longest being 5/8 inch. The skirt of mail is made of fine rings only 3/32 inch in diameter.

The history of miniature warriors and armor elements extends through the centuries, with model soldiers found entombed with Egyptian pharaohs, and tiny helmets and body armor used as votive offerings in ancient Greece. Continuing the tradition, puppetlike armored knights on horseback were elaborate toys of medieval and Renaissance princes. The future Emperor Maximilian I (reigned 1493–1519) played with jousting knights similar to today’s action figures, drawn toward one another until lances struck their targets and one knight toppled to the ground. Armorers also made such toys and suits as showpieces, or “logos,” for their guildhalls. Others were part of “cabinets of curiosities,” a mélange of unusual and exceptional items collected by wealthy patrons.

Armor’s disuse in the latter part of the seventeenth century resulted in reduced interest in the expensive miniatures. The nineteenth-century Gothic Revival mania for all things medieval, however, revived the fascination with knights and knighthood. Handcrafted diminutive suits were no longer built for children, but were “toys for big boys”—aficionados who collected the miniatures and full-size armors with near equal passion.

A comparison with those of known origin and date suggests that the Higgins Museum’s armor is a product of the Parisian firm E. Granger. A prominent company of its era, Granger exhibited at the 1844 National Industrial Exposition in Paris and in 1862 at the London International Exhibition. The company also made full-size armors for the Paris Opera and Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in London. As with the museum’s example, Granger‘s miniatures, about a dozen of which are known, copy sixteenth-century-style horsemen.

The attribution to Granger is further supported by the workmanship of the museum’s suit, which features a cast bronze head distinctive to the firm’s products. The form and elements of the armor also echo details of a boy’s harness that the company produced about 1843 for Louis-Philippe-Albert, Comte de Paris (1838–1894), later King Philippe VII, and pretender to the French throne.2

Walter J. Karcheski, Jr. , is Senior Curator of Arms and Armor of the Higgins Armory Museum and Consulting Curator to the Harding Collection of Arms and Amor in The Art Institute of Chicago. He has authored over forty publications and is a member of numerous international arms and armor organizations, serving as the U.S. representative on the executive board of the International Committee of Museums of Arms and Military History (ICOMAM) since 1993.

Curator's Choice is a regular feature that highlights a museum object currently off view, providing the rare opportunity for a behind-the scenes curatorial tour.

  1. Donated in 1972, accession number 3845. The suit was a gift from a noncollector, who proffered a fictitious Italian maker's name, suggesting that the armor was perhaps obtained in Italy.
  2. Peter Finer Sale Catalogue of Arms and Armor. Privately printed, 1999. Catalogue number 41.

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