Cuirassier Armour (1470/1500) by Hans Grünewalt (?)Neue Burg, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
The knight in shining armor is often a character of myth and legend, but remarkably, these suits of armor at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien are all real. Their polished plates and gold ornaments represent the final flourishing of this art form before the advent of firearms.
Combat Armour (1548/1550) by Matthäus Frauenpreiß d.Ä.Neue Burg, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Men-at-arms have worn armor for centuries, but it was in medieval Europe that the shining suit of armor was invented. By the 15th Century, guns had made their debut on the battlefield, but that didn't stop the old aristocracy from parading around in their finest.
Field Armour (1535/1540) by Wolfgang GroßschedelNeue Burg, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Some of these suits were made for practical purposes. They had to provide complete protection for their wearers while allowing for movement and ventilation. It wasn't worth wearing armor if you couldn't ride a horse, fight, kill, and win.
Armour for horseman (1440/1460) by UnknownNeue Burg, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
This simple plate armor was made in the late 1400s for a horseman. Its smooth plates would deflect glancing blows, where joints are necessary, smaller plates and mail would (hopefully) prevent a spear from reaching the body.
Costume Armour (1525) by Kolman HelmschmidNeue Burg, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Some suits seem too ornate to be real. This piece of 'costume armor' was made in 1523 and designed to resemble the kind of clothes worn by the elite Landsknecht troops. Unsurprisingly, this complex design is considered the masterpiece of armourer Kolman Helmschmied.
Jousting Armour (Stechzeug) (1483/1494) by Kaspar RiederNeue Burg, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Other suits of armor were made specifically for friendly events - jousts, tourneys, and parades. This is a highly-specialised suit of jousting armor. It didn't need to protect the full body, but it did need to protect against a lance to the chest.
Hercules Armour (1550/1560) by Eliseus LibaertsNeue Burg, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
The richer the patron, the fancier the armor. Every single inch of this remarkable suit is decorated with stamped images depicting Hercules - the incredible superhero-like figure of ancient Greek myth - and it was owned by the Holy Roman Emperor himself, Maximilian II.
Armour from the "Blue-Gold Garniture" (1557) by UnknownNeue Burg, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Emperor Maximilian also owned this blue and gold suit. Given a single suit of armor would take months to create, and could cost the equivalent of millions of dollars, owning one suit, let alone several, was the sign of extreme wealth.
Parade Armor (1578/1580) by Lucio PiccininoNeue Burg, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Of course, nobles wouldn't do anything so common as fight on foot, so their horses were often decked out in as much armor as they were. This piece of parade armor was made for Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, and would have made an incredible impression on anyone who saw it.
Half Armour (1555/1565) by UnknownNeue Burg, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
By the 1600s, firearms had proved their place on the field. Heavy armor was increasingly seen as a hindrance, and was replaced by lighter, smaller breastplates. The knight of old entered into memory, and his armor into museums.
If you'd like to learn more about the golden age of chivalry, why not take a look at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien's collection. It's not just armor, they also hold a stunning set of oil paintings and ancient sculpture from the Habsburg imperial collection.