Chamber of Wonders: Entry Hall of Arms and Armor

The significance to a nobleman of arms and armor as symbols of valor and family honor is evoked in this display within the entry hall of this imaginary collection. They project the owner’s personal magnificence. Our nobleman, as a supporter of Archdukes Albert and Isabella and their seventeenth-century successors as the Habsburg governors of the Southern Netherlands (present-day Belgium) on behalf of Spain, identifies strongly with the prestige and power of the Habsburg dynasty. Just as in the famous Ambras Palace collections of Albert’s uncle, Archduke Ferdinand, in Austria, visitors encounter this symbolically important display before the rest of the collections. Fine arms and armor demonstrating artistic virtuosity and technology evoked manly virtue, power, and continuity with past greatness. In the 1600s, the notion of virtue implied excellence in moral righteousness, courage, physical and mental discipline and agility. Virtuosity could be recognized in swordplay as well as in a work of technology or art; the “work” demonstrated agility, whether mental or physical. The primary meaning of “art” then was “special knowledge,” which is still in use today, as in “the art of cooking.” A well designed sword or pistol was very much a “work of art.”
    According to Baldasare Castiglione, writing on the ideal nobleman or courtier in Il Libro del Cortigiano (Venice 1528), “ the principal and true profession of the courtier must be that of arms: "The reputation of a gentleman whose profession is arms, if ever in the least way he sullies himself through cowardice or other disgrace, always remains defiled before the world and covered with ignominy.” He further notes that "it his first duty to know how to handle every kind of weapon, both on foot and on horse, and know the advantages of each kind; and be especially acquainted with those arms that are ordinarily used among gentlemen…” The most important part of Ferdinand's arms and armor collection was known as "the armaments of heroes" (first of all his relatives); the catalog, featuring full-length portraits of these noblemen wearing armor in the collection, was published by Jacobus Schrenck von Notzin, Die Heldenrüstkammer Ertzherzogs Ferdinands II. Auf Schloss Ambras (Room with the armaments of heroes; Innsbruck 1603), illustrated here by Portrait of Graf Jacob Hannibal von Hohenems (1530-1587) in Armor (Walters 93.38)
. The fortunes of Graf von Hohenems were closely tied to the Habsburgs, whom he served in various important military positions including in the Spanish Netherlands. He presented Archduke Ferdinand with armor worn by his father and grandfather as well as himself for the Archduke's collections in Innsbruck, thereby underlying the perceived associations between armor and family honor.
    The display of power combined with status, magnificence and family embodied by such a collection of static objects was mirrored in the ritual and spectacle of the court tournament and festival particularly associated with dynastically important weddings and other state occasions.

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