Eugui artistic armoury, Navarra - Bilbao Fine Arts Museum

The guest work

2024-03-13 • 2024-06-02

Eugui artistic armoury, Navarra

Room 12

The Guest Work programme is confirming its exceptional track record by bringing to the museum a set of sumptuary armoury objects from the historical Eugui forge (Navarra) thanks to the Fundación Banco Santander. They are conserved at the Royal Armoury of Madrid and belong to National Heritage’s Royal Collections. 

The display includes extraordinary-quality pieces dating from the last decade of the sixteenth and first few decades of the seventeenth centuries: a helmet (c.1596) profusely decorated with inlaid gold and silver; the Judgement of Paris shield (c.1598), whose theme and formal vocabulary come from the classical tradition; and a harquebus (c.1620), which stands out for being the only known firearm from Eugui. They are accompanied by carefully chosen documents from the nineteenth century made up of a book illustrated with the best armoury pieces produced published by the French mediaevalist Achille Jubinal, photographs from the era of Charles Clifford (one) and Jean Laurent (three) and the Count of Lipa’s photograph album, all of which highlight the interest that the pieces from Eugui have inspired throughout history. 

The Eugui forge

Between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, European weapon production was primarily concentrated in Flanders, southern Germany and northern Italy. In the first half of the sixteenth century, these hubs were brought under the Spanish crown, but after the 1558 death of emperor Charles V, only Flanders and Milan survived as luxury centres within the Spanish monarchy. Yet though barely known until now, the Basque and Navarran armouries were also prominent at the time, and the most outstanding among them was the Eugui forge (Navarra).  

In barely four decades—between 1595 and 1634—the Egui forge left a body of work that is one of the most notable sets of luxury armoury in Spain’s historical heritage. Located north of Pamplona, today it is considered a unique hub in Europe and one of the best examples of the Italian tradition due to the quality of its pieces. Its splendour was possible thanks to the interest of Philip II, who purchased it and equipped it with a team of Milanese armourers. Very few works still survive today, but those that do are chronologically related to Philip III and his family. 

Eugui, Navarra

Sallet, c. 1596

Steel, silver, gold. Blued, metal inlay, chiselled, inlaid, engraved
National Heritage. Royal Collections, Royal Armoury

This sallet is part of a small set of armour and accessory pieces decorated with the same pattern, so that they could be worn together in the various chivalrous games. Its dating and rich decorative elements suggest that it could have been commissioned to Eugui for Philip III's accession to the throne in 1598 or his wedding to Margaret of Austria in 1599. The abundant ornamentation and relief with gold and silver inlay is a compendium of some contemporary models and motifs—festoons with trifoliate leaves, cartouches with animals, palm trees, and fantastical beings alternating with a linked s-pattern, etc.—typical of the tradition of Milan, the birthplace of the gunsmiths who forged it. Eugui is therefore considered to be an Italian design centre.

Carlo Vicini, Giovan Ambrogio de Conti, Bernardo Sassi, Alberto Besozzi. Eugui, Navarra

Judgement of Paris Round Shield,, c. 1598

Steel, silver, gold, velvet. Gilt, blued, chiselled, inlaid, engraved, embossed, damascene
National Heritage. Royal Collections, Royal Armoury

The decoration of this round shield depicts the Judgement of Paris, a mythological event that marked the beginning of the Trojan War. It stands out for its exotic formal and ornamental language, with putti mounted atop sea dragons and medallions with Roman-style characters. Among the latter, the two at the top stand out, in which Cupid is preparing to shoot an arrow at Venus and gives her the golden apple symbolizing beauty. Due to its great richness and decorative precision, this shield is a key piece of luxury Italian armoury and one of the last embossed and chiselled productions created in Eugui. It was likely forged around 1598, but it did not become part of the Royal Armoury until 1608.

Eugui, Navarra

Arquebus, c. 1620

Wood, iron, steel, gold. Chiselled, nielloed, engraved, blued
National Heritage. Royal Collections, Royal Armoury

This matchlock arquebus was a gift from the viceroy of Navarra to Philip IV when he was still a prince, that is, prior to 1621, which places it stylistically between 1600 and 1620. During that period there were six viceroys of Navarra, so, in the absence of conclusive documentation, there is no way of knowing who the client was. It is the only Eugui-made firearm known to date, and it features the main characteristics of its production, with silver chains and scrolls in relief. On the chamber, it has a double-headed eagle, a dynastic reference. The muzzle has an unusual silver dragon with human features.

Achille Jubinal

The Royal Armoury or Collection of the main pieces in the gallery of antique weapons of Madrid [Graphic material] / illustrations by Mr Gaspar de Sensi; text by Mr Achille Jubinal; frontispieces, swash characters, culs-de-lampe by Mr Victor Sansonetti; engravings on wood by Mr Faxardo, on stone, copper, and steel by the best artists of Paris , 1839-1860

Cotton paper
National Heritage. Royal Collections, Library of the Royal Palace of Madrid

The multifaceted French medievalist Achille Jubinal published his selection of works from the Royal Armoury illustrated by Gaspar Sensi, an Italian painter and lithographer, around 1839. Some of Sensi's illustrations, such as that of the Judgment of Paris Shield, stand out for their modern and novel archaeological approach, thanks to the study and drawing of sections of the objects, which helps us to understand their forging as a single piece and the magnitude of their relief.

Charles Clifford

Sallet from the Royal Armoury of Madrid. Helmet gifted by the city of Pamplona to Philip III, 1863

Albumen paper
National Heritage. Royal Collections, General Palace Archives

Between 1863 and 1875, the Royal Armoury's collections were documented by three of the most outstanding photographers of the era, mainly by order of Elisabeth II or Alphonse XII: Charles Clifford, Jean Laurent, and Ludwik Tarszeński, Count of Lipa, Royal photographer. Their photographs, whose subject matter includes Eugui, provide essential documentation on the collection's history, providing insight into the evolution of its conservation over the past 160 years. They depict objects that have since been lost due to different vicissitudes, repairs, or alterations to their configuration. But in other cases, like in this photograph, we can see that there have been no especially significant changes since then.

Count of Lipa

National Armoury Album. Half armour of Philip III,, 1869

Albumen paper
National Heritage. Royal Collections, General Palace Archives

In this album, the Count of Lipa experimented with highly modern grey backgrounds, a very novel system at the time that became popular in art publications from the last third of the twentieth century. The photograph shows parade armour for Philip III, forged in Eugui in around 1614, decorated in the Italian style and arquebus-proof, as clearly seen in the bullet marks on the breastplate. Kept at the Royal Armoury, this piece is elaborate, yet extraordinary strong 42 kg siege armour. The image also documents the assembly system used between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, using wooden hangers.

Jean Laurent

Late sixteenth century shield, 1875

Albumen paper
National Heritage. Royal Collections, General Palace Archives

This photograph shows the Judgement of Paris round shield forged in Eugui and featured in the exhibition. It is an example of Jean Laurent’s great care in highlighting the characteristics of the Royal Armoury pieces whenever the format allowed it. The round shield stands out for its embossed, chiselled ornamentation, and metal inlay, which directly links it to the great parade pieces of Italian Mannerism. Despite the limited technical means of the time, Laurent highlights these techniques through the use of light and shadows.

Shield of Philip III,, 1875

Albumen paper
National Heritage. Royal Collections, General Palace Archives

One unique quality of Eugui productions is their combination of unusual iconographic motifs with the typical features of contemporary luxury armour, as observed in this round shield from the Royal Armoury dated 1614. Among the former is an atypical decorative vocabulary mixing classical elements with other medieval elements of unknown origin, such as those of the border on this round shield. The representation of the seven virtues in the centre reflects the custom of decorating parade armour with moralistic themes, for example, the principles that should govern a prince’s life.

Photographic Inventory of the Royal Armoury. Half armour of Infante Ferdinand, child, , 1875

Albumen paper
National Heritage. Royal Collections, General Palace Archives

In 1614, Philip III commissioned Eugui to produce six children's suits of armour for his sons, Infantes Ferdinand and Charles and the future King Philip IV. Each sibling had two for combat at the barrier: one plain, and another richly adorned parade suit with royal and imperial emblems inscribed in a diamond pattern; the latter was inspired by the court attire of the day. The armour in this photograph, forged for the Infante Ferdinand, future Cardinal-Infante, when he was nine years old, is of this type. It lacks a leg harness because blows below the waist were prohibited in the chivalrous game of combat at the barrier.