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Gilded parade helmet of Charles VI

© 2003 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Decorative Arts
Middle Ages

Author(s):
Isabelle Balandre

This gilded and enameled copper parade helmet was found during the excavation of the Cour Carrée in 1984. It was identified as that of King Charles VI because of its fleur-de-lis decoration, and by comparison with the 1411 inventory of the king's armory.

A surprise find at the bottom of a well

The helmet was found in the well of the tower of Philippe Auguste, which was filled in in 1528. It was in over one hundred and fifty pieces on discovery, which explains its fragmentary condition after reconstruction. It consists of two parts: the helmet itself, and a crown that was fixed to the lower rim above the visor.

Thanks to the precious materials and elaborate technique with which it was made (chased, enameled, and gilded copper), it was immediately identified as a parade helmet rather than protective headgear for war or tournaments.

The fleur-de-lis decoration, fleurons on the crown, and fleur-de-lis motif in the rectangular enameled medallions indicate that it was a royal helmet. The 1411 inventory refers to a "...hat of gilded iron with fleur-de-lis raised to a crown, winged stags below, and a motto saying EN BIEN with a fleur-de-lis above." Traces of the inscription ("En ien") are still visible, as are the fixation holes for the two winged stags that were once attached to the upper part of the helmet where they sprang from a network of hazel or wild rose on a guilloche background (common on royal items).

A helmet attributed to Charles VI

The discovery site of the helmet supports its attribution to King Charles VI, as does the description of the king's emblems and mottoes. The use of "badges" composed of a "motto" ("en bien") and a symbol (a winged stag) emerged in the West from the mid-14th century onward, together with the tradition of hereditary coats of arms (the royal emblem of the fleur-de-lis, in this instance).

The emblem or badge of Charles VI—the white winged stag—featured not only on the helmet but also on one of the two enameled bronze pennons, the second bearing a decoration of pheasant feathers. Other items were also found in the well: a fragment of a sword sheath featuring a silver plated hind, a leather strap with an engraved image of the same animal, a gilded bronze rivet decorated with a double broom pod, and a small bronze disc featuring the Hebrew letter "shîn".

This helmet—the only known example of its kind, and the sole surviving trace of the Louvre as it was at the time of Charles VI—testifies to the misfortunes and upheavals of that period.

Bibliography

- FLEURY Michel, KRUTA Venceslas, Le Château du Louvre, Paris : Editions Atlas, 1990

- TABURET-DELAHAYE, Elisabeth (sous la direction de ), Paris 1400 : les arts sous Charles VI , Paris : RMN, 2004 

Technical description

  • Gilded parade helmet of Charles VI

    Before 1411

    Paris

  • Beaten, chased, enameled, and gilded copper

  • Excavation of the Cour Carrée du Louvre, 1984

    OA 12014

  • Decorative Arts

    Sully wing
    Lower ground floor
    Medieval Louvre: Saint-Louis
    Room 7

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Additional information about the work

Restored in the Laboratoire d'Archéologie des Métaux in Nancy, 1987