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Museum Publishes Scholarly Volume of Arms and Armor featuring Highlights from the Collection

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is pleased to publish Arms and Armor: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, distributed by Yale University Press. The volume provides a scholarly assessment of the museum’s internationally renowned holdings of European arms and armor, widely regarded as one of the foremost collections of its kind in the United States. Written by Dirk H. Breiding, the J. J. Medveckis Associate Curator of Arms and Armor, the lively book features entries for nearly one hundred works ranging from full armors, helmets, and individual defensive elements and shields to swords, firearms, staff weapons, and related accessories, revealing how arms and armor were understood in their time as unique expressions of art, fashion, technology, design, and politics.

Breiding’s introductory essay examines the enduring fascination that such objects have held for centuries, from the artists and patrons who made, commissioned, and used them to the thousands of children and families who visit the museum galleries each year. Indeed, the subject’s continuing popularity should come as no surprise since most (super)heroes of Western culture, from the American cowboy to James Bond and Batman, can trace their origins back at least in part to the ideals and especially the equipment of the proverbial “knight in shining armor.” Breiding then traces the growth of arms and armor collections throughout the United States in the early twentieth century, focusing on the connoisseur and scholar Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch (1884–1976), whose bequest forms the backbone of the museum's collection. Breiding concludes with an invaluable overview of the collection and its broader significance: “The arms and armor in this book represent not only a selection of some of the best objects in the museum’s collection, but in several cases, they rank among the best examples of their kind anywhere. Individually and collectively, they denote the high regard in which their makers and original owners, as well as later collectors, held them. Their study as utilitarian objects, as well as their appreciation as art then and now, affords intriguing windows into numerous aspects of the culture of an entire continent.”

Drawn primarily from the ancestral armories of European rulers and nobility, the works selected for this publication provide new insights into the style and function of arms, armor, and related accessories. Each entry includes a thoughtful and accessible interpretive text, along with stunning new photography and rich contextual imagery, inviting readers to consider the works in relationship to their time, place of origin, and social as well as political circumstances. Specialists in the field will find the publication invaluable for its inclusion of provenance, exhibition histories, references, inscriptions, and marks. The 312-page hardcover, featuring more than 400 illustrations, is available for $45.00 online from the Philadelphia Museum of Art Store. (ISBN 9780876332924)

Arms and Armor: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art is the latest in the series of scholarly books that chronicle the exceptional holdings within the museum's collection. Previous titles include Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (published in 2019), authored by Jennifer A. Thompson, the Gloria and Jack Drosdick Curator of European Painting and Sculpture and Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection; and Art of China: Highlights from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, by Dr. Hiromi Kinoshita, The Hannah L. and J. Welles Henderson Associate Curator of Chinese Art.


Generous support for this publication was provided by John Medveckis, in honor of H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest (1930–1918) and Marguerite Lenfest.

About the Author

Dirk H. Breiding is the J. J. Medveckis Associate Curator of Arms and Armor, Philadelphia Museum of Art. He previously held the position of assistant curator in the Arms and Armor Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. He received a BA degree in 1998 and an MA degree in 1999 in Art History and History from University College, London, then worked as a research assistant and curator in the Departments of Medieval and Later Antiquities and Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum, and as a specialist in arms and armor at Christie’s London.

About the Arms and Armor Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of arms and armor is one of the finest in the United States, second only in size to that at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the core of the collection is the 1977 bequest by the New York–based businessman and philanthropist Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch (1884–1976), which comprises approximately 1,200 works, dating from classical antiquity through the nineteenth century.

Related Children’s Book Armor & Animals

For families, the museum has partnered with Princeton Architectural Press, publisher of books on architecture, design, and visual culture, to develop the children’s book Armor & Animals, written by Liz Yohlin Baill, Collections Interpreter for Youth and Families at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Armor & Animals compares the museum’s armor collection to animal defenses in the natural world. Kids can discover what knights, helmets, and shields have in common with shells, scales, and spikes, and other surprising connections. This colorful, whimsical book features more than a dozen works from the museum’s collection, paired with turtles, armadillos, crocodiles, and other amazing animals. It will be available in the museum beginning September 2020, and will be distributed by Princeton Architectural Press beginning February 2021. ($16.95; 40 pages; 51 illustrations, ISBN 978-1-61689-955-4)


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