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Italian Half Armor

Rivets, hinges, and straps join the many individual plates of armor.

The tassets of this half armor are each made of one piece of steel decorated to look like many small plates joined together.

Albrecht Dürer was among the printmakers to adopt the armorer’s technique of etching metal plates in the early 1500s. Albrecht Dürer, The Cannon, 1518, etching

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Many skilled craftsmen had a hand in the production of armor.

Making armor began with processing iron ore into steel, a lighter and harder metal than pure iron. The famous armor centers of Germany and Italy were near rich deposits of iron ore.

An armorer forged the steel into many small plates, no two alike. Blackened from the forge, the parts went to the polisher. A smooth, “glancing” surface helped turn aside enemy blows.

The decorator used a technique called “etching.” He painted designs on the steel plates with wax or varnish and then dipped the plates in acid. The acid ate away at the metal wherever it was not coated. Rubbed with a mixture of soot and linseed oil, these etched areas turned black, completing the design. Finally, a finisher put the pieces together with rivets and straps and added padding under the plates.

As in other times, military technology was soon put to other uses. Artists seized upon the armor maker’s technique of etching metal, and etching has remained an important printmaking method to this day.

February 2006