Stolen 16th c. armor returned to Louvre

Two pieces of opulent 16th century armor stolen from the Louvre almost four decades ago have been recovered. Bequeathed to France by Baroness Adèle Von Rothschild in 1922, the helmet and backplate were stolen from the Paris museum the night of May 31st, 1983. The circumstances of the theft have never been explained, and there was no trace of the pair until earlier this year.

A military antiques expert alerted police after being called in to give advice regarding an inheritance in Bordeaux in January and becoming suspicious about the luxurious helmet and body armour in the family’s collection.

Police officers from the Central Office for the Fight Against Trafficking in Cultural Goods looked up the helmet and cuirass back piece in TREIMA, France’s national database of stolen cultural property, and confirmed that they were the objects stolen from the Louvre 38 years ago. Bordeaux prosecutors are now investigating how they came into the possession of the family.

The two pieces are made of iron damascened with gold and silver relief decorations including nudes, floral swags, grotesques and a mounted warrior on a rearing horse in the foreground of an architectural cityscape. They were part of a complete set of ornamental armor made in Milan between 1560 and 1580. They were luxury goods, not practical protective devices, used by the elite for ceremonial purposes or parades.

The helmet is of the burgonet type, named the Duchy of Burgundy where the design originated. It is characterized by a rounded dome with a peak above the face opening a crest running from just above the peak to the back of the head. It was lightweight compared to the close helmets and did not obscure the wearer’s vision.

“I was certain we would see them reappear one day because they are such singular objects. But I could never have imagined that it would work out so well — that they would be in France and still together,” said Philippe Malgouyres, the Louvre’s head of heritage artworks.

The recovered armor will go on display in the Objets d’Art rooms in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre after the museum reopens.