Luigi Marzoli Arms Museum, Brescia

Fondazione Brescia Musei

One of the largest and most important collections of ancient weapons and armour, housed in the Viscontean keep of Brescia Castle

Brescia Castle
Perched on Cidneo Hill, the castle is one of Italy’s most fascinating fortifications and the second largest in Europe; evidence of its various rulers may still be seen today. The central keep, the impressive outer walls with battlements and the tower tell of the Visconti’s influence, while the mighty bastions and monumental entrance with drawbridge testify to the power of the Venetian Empire – the Serenissima – to which the town belonged for more than four centuries.

The robust fourteenth-century Viscontean keep houses the Luigi Marzoli Arms Museum, inaugurated in 1988 to display one of the most extensive European collections of old armour and weaponry.

The Luigi Marzoli collection
Brescia’s Arms Museum was established after the donation of the collection of Luigi Marzoli, Cavaliere del Lavoro and successful businessman, after whom it is named. During his life Marzoli acquired a large collection of weapons and armour, which came to be one of the most important private collections in the world. In his will he left this precious collection to the town, which undertook to set up an arms museum in the Viscontean keep of the town castle.
The importance of Marzoli’s collection, to which the weapons and armour already present in the civic collection were added, is due not only to the quantity and quality of the pieces, but also to their selection. The Cavaliere del Lavoro's intention was not just to gather together the best and rarest items on sale, but to obtain examples of the important traditional weapons productions from Brescia’s hinterland, and also elsewhere in Lombardy.

This helmet – made in Germany, and one of only 3 known specimens – is a good example of Cavaliere Marzoli’s project to collect rare, high quality objects.

An example of an extremely rare Lombard piece is this bascinet, discovered in Chalcis Castle in Euboea. At the sale, Luigi Marzoli was in competition with the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, which holds all the other finds from Chalcis. This specimen testifies to a specific period of this Lombard – probably Milanese – production, as indicated by the crowned P symbol, similar to those found on the oldest surviving plate armour (kept in Castel Coira) and on a basin from a well in the Palazzo Comunale of San Gimignano, traditionally attributed to Pietro Missaglia. This helmet type, which represents an elaboration with respect to other contemporary examples, was made for the Venetian market and issued to local garrisons, or – as in this case – overseas forces.

Collection of morion helmets made in Brescia in the mid-16th century.

This armour was found together with another similar piece in a castle in the province of Brescia; both were bought by Marzoli, but only one belongs to the civic collection. This armour was made for jousting, a tournament competition between two horsemen allowed freedom of movement, who could strike their opponent from any direction. This called for particularly effective protection and extra components were added to the armour to protect the areas most at risk, giving the jouster a strangely asymmetrical appearance.
One of the most important items in the collection is this armour for foot combat which probably belonged to Charles Emmanuel I of Savoy, or one of his sons. It is one of the finest pieces of armour made in a Milan workshop in the late 16th century and bears the stamp of Maestro del Castello a Tre Torri, an anonymous armour manufacturer who produced numerous high quality pieces that are renowned even today for their perfection and refinement. Together with Pompeo della Cesa, the Maestro del Castello introduced new methods of armour forging and decoration in the late 16th and early 17th century, as the Brescia specimen shows: it is forged using thick, solid plates, with near-perfect limb articulations. Half armour for foot combat was the strongest, since the type of combat was particularly bloody: two teams of knights on foot fought using all types of weapons, but they were separated by a barrier which meant that it was not necessary to protect the legs. The winners were those who managed to put all their opponents out of action.

The refined strip decoration, made by etching and gold leaf application, features the Savoy knot, emblem of the House of Savoy.

Roman-style foot-combat armour from the Brescia civic collection, which probably belonged to one of the Martinengo family who commanded Venetian troops.

This half armour – etched, engraved with a burin and gilded – was a piece of high quality ornamental armour.

This shield, dated 1563, is splendidly decorated with the mythological scene of the Triumph of Bacchus in Italian mannerist style.

The engraving of this shield shows great skill and artistry.

The display includes wooden carvings of a number of knights on horseback; the horses too wear body armour and trappings of the period.

This horse’s head armour with the Medinaceli monogram is one of the most finely made. The importance of this chaffron – apart from its splendid workmanship and the owner’s importance – is due to the fact that all the other components survive, in various armouries throughout the world. The Armeria Reale in Turin has the knight’s armour and part of the barding, Konopiste Castle armoury the buckler shield, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art the helmet with visor.

On the chaffron is inscribed the monogram MEDINACELI, a reference to Juan della Cerda, fourth duke of Medinaceli and governor of Sicily from 1557.

In the 17th century horsemen’s armour underwent radical change. It became lighter, and the thighs were covered by multi-plate cuisses that came down to the knees, leaving the lower legs free for large boots. It was worn by soldiers armed with a pair of wheellock pistols; the row directly in front of the enemy lines fired at their opponents, and its members then retired to the back of the column to reload, leaving the next row to fire so as to produce a continual onslaught.

This typical 17th century armour is completely covered with incisions referring to a battle against the Turks.

Firearms are still the flagship of Brescia's arms production today. In the 17th and 18th centuries the gun barrels produced mainly by craftsmen of Gardone Val Trompia were renowned all over the world and some weapon-manufacturing dynasties became extremely famous. A prominent example was Cominazzo, whose usual trademark was Lazarino Cominazzo, who were so well known for their gun barrels (“canne lazarine”) that their trademark was forged on goods from the East.

Pair of pistols with a wheel-based firing mechanism bearing the name Giovanni Antonio Gavacciolo, dating to 1640; the barrels with the name Giovanni Lazarino Cominazzo date to circa 1660.

A wheel-lock rifle made by Brescian master craftsmen. The name on the barrel is Jacomo di Fortunato Cominazzi, born in 1606; it was produced in about 1640.

The decoration of bone dots is not typical of Brescian production, but was added to firearms destined for the Balkans or the East.

Another important firearm of great rarity is this musket; only one other similar piece is known, a matchlock pistol with three rotating barrels kept in the armoury of Palazzo Ducale in Venice. It is likely that they were military weapons, probably for naval warfare.

This musket is important for its rarity; the only other similar weapon known is a pistol with the same firing mechanism kept in the armoury of Palazzo Ducale in Venice.

This rapier, with a magnificent blade from Toledo bearing the name of Pedro de La Velmonte mounted on a gilt and damascened hilt, was probably made in Milan. During the 17th century Spanish dominion Toledo blades with hilts decorated by Lombard craftsmen – who boasted a long tradition of producing high quality hilts – were much in demand.

The collection includes this finely made thrusting sword made in north Italy between about 1490 and 1520.

The pommel is decorated with plaques depicting the Judgement of Paris on one side, and Ariadne on Naxos on the other, the work of goldsmith and sculptor Giovanni di Fondulino Fonduli.

Credits: Story

Comune di Brescia

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