Supporting Acts: Mounting a Suit of Maximilian Armour

By Chris Arrowsmith, Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies student, specialising in Metalwork 

This spring term the metals conservation students were given a whole suit of armour to play with. It turned out to be a major undertaking over three months, but one challenge in particular interested me – how on earth to mount a heavy, free-standing suit of armour?  

The armour is a 19th century reproduction of a much older, 16th century design in the ‘Maximilian’ style, named for the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I who was a noted patron of armourers, attracting some of the best talent of the time to his workshops in Innsbruck, Austria.  

Our piece had not had a happy life – it had been stored in pieces, dirty and held together with electrical wire (Fig. 1 above), and although it wasn’t actively corroding, much of the leather strapping had rotted, it was seized up with accumulations of grease and dirt, and several of the joints were broken or missing their rivets. Our task was firstly to clean, repair, and then assemble the armour as a freestanding, fully dressed suit for return to the owner.  

Armours are ingeniously constructed. Although the total weight of the pieces adds up to 26kg, it is distributed widely over the body of the wearer and supported from the strongest points of the body - mainly the shoulders and waist - allowing the wearer maximum freedom of mobility in the limbs. We needed to construct a mount that allowed the armour to be supported in the same way. A proprietary display mannequin had been provided to us for the torso, head and arms, and once the shoulder and waist straps were replaced, we were able to dress it with the ‘cuirass’ – the front and back torso armour which would hang as naturally as possible from the shoulders (Fig. 2 below).  

Figure 1. The armour on arrival.

Ultimately our mannequin needed to be able to stand, and since we had only the upper torso, we would need to design and make the legs and base ourselves. We knew that with the combined weight of armour and mount, the legs would need to be strong and stiff enough to bear the load and resist movement, preventing the frame from buckling or the whole assembly from toppling over. 

Figure 2. Test fitting the cuirass with its new strapping.

Fortunately, in the metals department we have a range of skills available to us among the students, including design and metalwork fabrication. After taking measurements (Fig. 3 above) and discussing ideas, I was able to produce CAD drawings and a 3D model (Fig. 4 below), primarily to communicate the idea behind the design for the legs.

Figure 3. Taking measurements for the leg supports.

The torso would sit down onto a steel base plate (yellow). There were threaded fixings in the underside of the dummy already that we were able to re-purpose to bolt it onto this plate using a replacement connector (green). The legs (red) were lengths of 20mm diameter hollow steel tube with plates welded to the top and bottom. These would help to spread the loads over a wider area once bolted up and tightened; they stiffen the joints at the waist and ankles and prevent the whole frame from twisting or ‘racking’ – sideways collapse - under the weight of the armour. The legs are bolded through a wide base (brown) that forms the top of an mdf plinth. Rather late in the day, we had notification that our client wanted to incorporate a sword into the final piece. This required an additional mount (blue) so that the armour could be posed as if leaning on a downward pointing sword. The mount would support the crossguard of the sword at the correct height and distance from the body so that the point of the blade would not actually need to rest on the ground.

Figure 4: 3D model showing leg, torso and sword mount assembly.

Having the complete design drawn up in CAD enabled us to take any additional measurements we needed from the armour and easily modify the design if needed. Once this was settled, we printed paper templates for the individual components at 1:1 scale which could be taken to the workshop as guides for cutting, drilling and generally preparing the steel stock for fabrication. This was a great opportunity for us to learn about the processes of fabrication – setting up the workspace, holding the piece (Fig. 6), and then, after a bit of practice, having a go at MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding ourselves (Fig. 7) under the guidance of Subject Leader Kate Jennings.

Figure 5. One of our CAD drawings produced for fabrication.

With the legs formed and standing perfectly (Fig. 8), we could pair up the torso and finally get a sense of the completed mannequin, surprisingly imposing on his plinth, and ready for dressing (Fig. 9).

Pairing up each piece of armour in turn allowed us to get a sense of how much padding would be needed to fill out around the limbs and parts of the torso (Fig. 10).


I was pleased with the mount and the whole assembly seemed extremely robust and very stable. We perhaps over-engineered in some respects, particularly the thickness of the steel plate, and so could perhaps have saved some weight by reducing that. These are all valuable lessons for next time, and we now have a working design that can be refined for any future mounts. Best of all I can report that the armour has been safely transported back its owner, this time in one piece!