Portuguese or Spanish-Style Iron Helmet
The Philippines or Eastern Indonesia
length: 40.5cm, height: 28cm, weight: 1,126g
Spanish or Portuguese-style morion helmets made locally in Asia are known artifacts but they are rare. All known examples seem to be of brass. But this example is of iron, so is all the rarer.
It is unclear where in Asia such helmets were manufactured. Possibilities include the Philippines under the Spanish or perhaps Eastern Indonesia or Macau under the Portuguese. They seem to have become prized trade, presentation and heirloom items among local rulers, particularly in Eastern Indonesia. The Raja of Sikka on the island of Fores in Eastern Indonesia adopted one such helmet as part of regency’s regalia and there are images of the Raja wearing his regalia including the helmet. Flores had a long association with Portuguese settlers some of whom seem to have settled there in the wake of the fall of the Portuguese enclave in Malacca in 1641. The royal family of Sikka had adopted the Portuguese name of da Silva as early as the sixteenth century. The family continued in power until the 1950s (Hamilton, 1994, p. 149).
The splendid example here has a superb sculptural quality. The point of the helmet ends with a flowing twist away from the face of the wearer. The shape might be drawn from that of a mango, and appears to be more of a localised feature than many extant examples that have a more conventional European form.
It has a wide brim, upturned and pointed at both ends. The brim is attached to the rest of the helmet by means of rivets all the way round the heads of which are engraved with gadroons, and the bit where the brim and helmet join is hidden by a decorative rope-twist wire.
There is no gadrooning or decoration to the dome of the helmet – it is sheer and unadorned, reinforcing the helmet’s overall sculptural beauty.
The helmet is in very fine condition without dents, cracks, holes or restoration. It is covered with a dark, encrusted patina.
Hamilton, R. (ed.), Gift of the Cotton Maiden: Textiles of Flores and the Solor Islands, Fowler Museum of Cultural History, UCLA, 1994.
van Zonneveld, A.,
Traditional Weapons of the Indonesian Archipelago, C. Zwartenkot Art Books, 2001.
private UK collection
Inventory no.: 1903
Sikka dressed in his regalia and dating to the 1940s.