Black armour - right or wrong?

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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby gregory23b » Mon Jan 09, 2012 8:25 pm

"The assumption seemed to be made that black armour was painted."

Nope, incorrect, it was a type of finish, not the sole type of finish, no one has suggested otherwise.

"I have certainly seen C17th units where every pikeman wears a black painted back, brest and helmet, normally spray painted: and whatever anybody says about pigment grain or whaterever, a modern spray paint is not the same as a real oil paint applied with a brush. "

Agreed, ECWS armour is usually crap, it was back in the day, I remember wearing a pikeman's armour, yes spray painted and all. Yet where are the 15thc mass sprayed harnesses?

"and whatever anybody says about pigment grain or whaterever"

That would be you who raised that red herring regarding medieval paint grinding etc as if it made a speck of difference to the discussion.

"I still await evidence of the mass painting of armour in plain colours:"

No one apart from you has suggested such a thing, where, apart from ECWS/SK will you find such a swathe of spray paint? maybe you are tarring all groups with the same brush, pun intended.

"although I will admit that these days..."

Oh, so you mean some time ago you saw these vast hoards of badly painted reenactors? ah, hence the difficulty in substantiating it at present, I see, kind of pointless really. I thought you were talking about the here and now, summary:

was some armour painted? - check
was some armour forge blackened? - check
was some polished? - check
flat matt acrylic/spray paint is bad? - check (I am very anti acrylic matt paint finish, hence me making my own paints using period recipes)
some painted reenactment armour is poorly done - check, emphasis on the 'some'

I can't see who you are arguing against to be honest.


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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Chris T » Fri Jan 13, 2012 6:31 pm

I was not trying to pick an arguments with the experts: those who are expert in any field tend to recognise that there was considerable variation, and there is rarely a single 'right' answer.

Since a discussion thread had started about black armour I took the occasion to point out ....for those that know less....that black armour was not typically painted.
I did not aim my comments at any particular period, but never the less a number of people have sought to prove me wrong by giving examples of painted armour, all of which is patterned, coloured and so on.

The existance or otherwise of re-enactment units for any particular period with black painted armour is not really the point: what is, to my mind the point, is that far too many people have armour which is painted black (or indeed machine bright polished...it tends to be one or the other). I do not really care what period they are, I just wish they would give a bit more attention to this, as it is very obvious.



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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Tod » Fri Jan 20, 2012 10:19 am

For no other reason than I'ma bit excited about it I've just ordered black armour like the picture 8-) .
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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby wulfenganck » Sat Jan 21, 2012 1:27 am

Tod wrote:For no other reason than I'ma bit excited about it I've just ordered black armour like the picture 8-) .
Yummy!



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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Zachos » Sun Jan 22, 2012 9:16 am

Tod wrote:For no other reason than I'ma bit excited about it I've just ordered black armour like the picture 8-) .


Nice. Always wanted to see one of these made. Who is making it? What events are you going to be wearing it for? I wasn't aware of much armoured 16th century stuff in the UK?


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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Tod » Wed Jan 25, 2012 4:46 pm

To start with its for the Flodden project, then I need to find some other events. Flodden forum is here http://flodden.freeforums.org/index.php



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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Gockee » Sat Jan 28, 2012 12:24 pm

IF armour took a long time to paint dry and finish - whatever method - would the person depicted in the period prints be the one doing the painting? Wouldn't he have a servant (etc) who would do it for him?
If so, would he actually care how long it took?



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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby gregory23b » Sun Jan 29, 2012 1:47 pm

Oil varnish paint can take as little as a few hours to a couple of days to dry, depending on: recipe, atmospheric conditions and thickness of paint, sunlight (UV) accelerates hardening as do metal salts and dryers like spirit of turpentine, thick paint takes longer to dry etc etc.

Painters painted, but that does not mean a monopoly on painted work, painting ingredients were plentiful and widespread for others to purchase, the more exotic subject to cost and availability. I doubt very much that anyone with any cash or status would paint his own armour (if painted at all) any more than he would sew his own clothes or make the armour in the first place etc.


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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Skevmeister » Tue Feb 21, 2012 4:55 pm

Having just found time to read this, can I say that I have seen extant pieces in Hochosterwitz that are still shiny and not Matt that are both bitumen and painted black and have embossed family shields; that are still worn in parades today that where made for the family militia back in teh 15th and 16th Centuries.
And there are at least 30 helmets and plackarts on display in their museum.


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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Kairra » Sat Apr 28, 2012 2:18 pm

I'm certainly no expert but when I was doing 15th Century, my research led me to believe that blackened armour was common as it was a direct result of a forging process - to have shiny silver armour was to add a lot more to the finishing process, whereas the forge blackened happened normally after the metal was 'ready enough'. Having seen the cuts and images of the time, where lords would arm their units from their own pockets to fight their wars, it seemed that the blackened armour was a type of 'off the conveyor' armour, knocked out over and over again for the average soldier - nothing special, but enough to afford that particular lord a good advantage with his troops in battle.

I know throughout this thread people have pretty much said the same thing, but I thought I'd try and add my little bit in :P


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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Colin Middleton » Fri Jun 15, 2012 4:36 pm

Just to poke the hornet's nest...

Why are we presuming that there is 'cheap' armour being bought of any scale peior to the 16th C? My understanding was that lords and cities were filling their armour houses with old, out of date (but still well made) harnesses and second hand armour gathered from the battlefields, which is being shipped about by merchants. I know that some armour was 'bulk bought' for the armour stores (mostly briandines, I beleive), but I got the impression that there wasn't that much of it and consequently there wasn't the demand for 'cheap and nasty' to warrent the undermining of guid quality rules. I suspect that if people wanted to buy their own cheap armour, they were getting bear minimums, such as helmet and jack only, so you're more likely to find the crappy helmets (like many of the painted ones) than anything else.

I used to be under the impression that a satin finish was more common on armour, until an armourer pointed out to me that when they disassembled the Avante Harness to clean it, the parts that had been covered for centuries had a mirror polish on them!

I've also been told that King Edward IV fought in a black harness with gilded helmet (just to add to the original question). However, be careful of pictures where everyone appears to be wearing black armour. That could just be an artistic convention for painting steel.

In response to Chris's "the armour's drying" joke, as I understand it, we put our armour through a much tougher life than was normal in most of history. Normally campaings had breaks of several days or weeks between battles and participation in tournaments wasn't likley to be a weekly event either. This gives time between conflicts to re-paint/repair armour, which we don't normally have available.

Addressing just the middle ages, I know that we have several painted helmets (usually quite skillfully painted), but what other examples of painted armour are there. Do we have painted arm harness or cuirass?

Finally, I'm also against the 'gloss dulux' look. The shiny finish just doesn't look right to me, too high a shine to be a beleivable oil paint. Also, modern paints tend to flake and chip, while I expect oil paints to scratch and score instead due to the natural felxability of the medium. This gives a different wear pattern to the paint. I also cannot remember any examples of large areas of flat colour on painted harness, normally it is broken up into small areas AFAIK.

If anyone can point me in the direction of evidence to correct any misconceptions above, I would greatly appreaciate it.

Many thanks


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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby gregory23b » Fri Jun 15, 2012 5:26 pm

"Finally, I'm also against the 'gloss dulux' look. The shiny finish just doesn't look right to me, too high a shine to be a beleivable oil paint."

If you look up the recipes and the intended finish of the oil varnish paints and varnish they are glossy, it was prized and in some recipes actually an expensive item using exotic materials guaranteed to give the optimum shine.

Not only that, but when you make the varnish up according to the recipes it can only come out shiny due to the content of said recipe, the oleo resins impart the gloss and the toughness.

It may not look right but that is a modern mind set based on being exposed to a range of matte finishes that were not available plus an aesthetic appreciation that is very different, ie we don't do glossy bling because it looks vulgar. There is a reason why shiny jewellery and indeed polished armour was sought after, that principle applies to the (apparently to our eyes) gaudy nature of varnish based paints. Shine = clean = bright = expensive (actually or only slightly) So if shiny is ok for metal armour and jewellery, why could it not be ok for paint?

The painted items that survive, even after the hundreds of years retain much of the character of the shine in the paint due to the varnish based paints (not oil based they are different) is very durable and resistant to decay, the clear shine will tone down after use, the surface gets roughened and light is diffused, creating a more matte effect,

Modern oil based paints bear little resemblance to medieval ones, modern paints have much more carrier - oil, and do not usually contain hardening agents such as the resins, so you get a different paint entirely and should not be used for painting metal unless you want a dodgy and forever slow drying oily mess.


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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Colin Middleton » Mon Jun 18, 2012 12:48 pm

I don't think that it's exposure to matt finishes that's influenced by thinking. It might be that I'm only used to seeing oil paints after 100s of years of 'decay' taking the shine off. Certainly it's not the fact that thye shine that disquiets me, but the particular charecteristics of it. It might also be the even ness of the shine that we get with modern paints, while I always associate oils with 'texture'.

On a slight ly different note, who will be using these 'exotic materials' to give shine to their paint. This would imply that it's the preserve of the wealthy.

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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby gregory23b » Tue Jun 19, 2012 6:25 pm

The actual finish on the sallets say at the Tower and Wallace are rough indeed, you can still see the brush marks so thick was the paint.

As for exotic, some of the varnish ingredient were exotic, there are dozens of varnish recipes, some very cheap and some very expensive.

I have made the simpler/cheaper sort - linseed oil boiled with rosin (colophony) and mixed it with pigment to the same consistency and you do get a shine and the brush marks and it sets quickly and is a tough finish.

As I said, modern oil paints do not come into the equation, or at least should not as they are very different indeed to medieval oil paints, see previous post.

I always suggest people mix their own paints, a modern but very effective compromise to medieval varnish medium is polyurethane mixed with pigment to a thick brush on consistency, done well this is no different from using the medieval ones, after all modern varnishes are simply modern versions of what went before and are used in exactly the same way; in paints and as finishes.

"100s of years of 'decay' taking the shine off."
Often that is surface dirt and the further you back the more likely the 'oil' paint is likely to be varnish and shiny underneath.

As for evenness, when varnish was used to seal paintings, evenness was exactly what was required and instructions are also provided for that so as not to spoil the painting, so you have two levels of finish; fine and coarse and anything between, I know from looking at the painted sallets that they fit the bill of thick and shiny, as they are original then they are the bench mark of what is 'correct' or not.

We would not assume that rusty armour was representative just because it is rusty now, nor should we assume that a five hundred year old painted sallet was not shiny because it lacks a bit of the lustre, that has to cut both ways.


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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Tod » Wed Nov 28, 2012 5:43 pm

gregory23b wrote:The actual finish on the sallets say at the Tower and Wallace are rough indeed, you can still see the brush marks so thick was the paint.

As for exotic, some of the varnish ingredient were exotic, there are dozens of varnish recipes, some very cheap and some very expensive.

I have made the simpler/cheaper sort - linseed oil boiled with rosin (colophony) and mixed it with pigment to the same consistency and you do get a shine and the brush marks and it sets quickly and is a tough finish.

As I said, modern oil paints do not come into the equation, or at least should not as they are very different indeed to medieval oil paints, see previous post.

I always suggest people mix their own paints, a modern but very effective compromise to medieval varnish medium is polyurethane mixed with pigment to a thick brush on consistency, done well this is no different from using the medieval ones, after all modern varnishes are simply modern versions of what went before and are used in exactly the same way; in paints and as finishes.

"100s of years of 'decay' taking the shine off."
Often that is surface dirt and the further you back the more likely the 'oil' paint is likely to be varnish and shiny underneath.

As for evenness, when varnish was used to seal paintings, evenness was exactly what was required and instructions are also provided for that so as not to spoil the painting, so you have two levels of finish; fine and coarse and anything between, I know from looking at the painted sallets that they fit the bill of thick and shiny, as they are original then they are the bench mark of what is 'correct' or not.

We would not assume that rusty armour was representative just because it is rusty now, nor should we assume that a five hundred year old painted sallet was not shiny because it lacks a bit of the lustre, that has to cut both ways.


I've just commisioned my early 16th century armour after the last order was stopped in the Ukraine. The original it is being copied from is black and shiney (see attachement). What would be the best way to get a finish that is as close as possible. I'm pretty sure its painted.
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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Ancient Pistol » Mon Dec 03, 2012 11:28 pm

That wonderful browned to black "beetle's wing" effect you see lovingly portrayed in so many battle paintings from the Renaissance onward, (when the coatings and pigment technology took off, facilitating the move towards realism in art rather than conventions.) is really pretty simple to reproduce. Take one forge blackened munition quality corselet and slosh Neats foot or linseed oil on it then spread with a cloth. Takes a few hours to dry in the sun and leaves a rust resisting skin on the armour and a deep almost laquered shine. I imagine many applications would seem like heavily applied laquer after it has dried on for a few hundred years! I treat my munition quality 17thc armour in this way.

The New Model Army used massive quantities of neats foot oil, can't all have been for soaking buff coats. I cannot speak for any other period, but it seems to me that the simple answer is usually the way to go. |(



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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Mark Griffin » Thu Dec 27, 2012 11:52 am

Tod, I'd have thought a chat with kelvingrove to see if any analysis has been done on that armour


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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Angie » Thu Dec 27, 2012 4:22 pm

I'm up there again in January and I'll drop them a mail as they've been pretty helpful to date.
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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Mark Griffin » Thu Dec 27, 2012 6:47 pm

Or ask Toby, he did the re-display up there of course. And bloomin good it is too.


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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Tod » Fri Jan 04, 2013 1:10 pm

From a man who can I've been told the paint on the Kelvinrove Armour (my picture in my post above) was repainted in the 18th century so that messes that idea up. Maybe it wasn't painted at all. But I would like to paint it. Following Jorges post above I'm going to try polyurethane mixed with lamp black and see what finsih I get. I can't think that armour that nice (not the helmet which is rough) was painted and left with a broom finish. But I think it highly possible that light brush marks could be left unless the paint runs into itself.

Now I know the paint isn't original I am open to ideas as the back and breast should be done by the end of the month and the arms by the end of March.



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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Tod » Fri Jan 04, 2013 1:30 pm

I was just on the phone to a supplier and he suggested black polyurethane boat paint. In a strange sort of way the use and elements seem to make a logical answer - outside and being knocked about.
I have been thinking, most if not all modern re-enactment armour will not be the same metal as the originals. The elements will be different but we try and get armourers to produce some thing that is as close as poss. so with paint should I be trying to get as close as poss. to the original finish/look or paint that is what we think they might have used (unless some one has chemical data from some research done on paint used on armour around 1513). The advantage I have is that being paint I can remove it at any time any apply some thing else.



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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Mark Griffin » Fri Jan 04, 2013 1:44 pm

I'm leaving my winchester cuirass and splits black from the hammer and giving them an oil. So if they end up standing next to each other the difference can be explained.


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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Chris T » Thu Jan 24, 2013 12:50 am

Forge black and oil (fat, wax, you name it...) makes SO much more sense to me.



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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Tod » Thu Jan 24, 2013 2:47 pm

I'll be in Kelvein Grove Museum on Sunday so will take a good look, although I'll be looking at 18th century paint on 16th century armour (does this mean I can wear it for 1745 events LOL).



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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Mark Griffin » Thu Jan 24, 2013 2:50 pm

its not the date of the paint its the age of the brush


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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby John Waller » Thu Jan 24, 2013 4:15 pm

Ancient Pistol wrote:The New Model Army used massive quantities of neats foot oil, can't all have been for soaking buff coats. |(


I thought the New Noodle had largely given up on using armour?


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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Tod » Mon Feb 04, 2013 11:16 am

So if they like me had some really old manky brushes in thier shed it would be old painting, right? I should have been able to tell because it would have had traces of other old paint mixed in ;-)
Seriously the visit didn't help much as the brush marks are impossible to see mostly due to rubbish lighting in the gallery and filthy glass case (I think I'll donate some Windowlene). I've thought that the brushes would leave marks so I'm going to have few practice goes before painting the actual armour which will be fully completed by the end of March. I don't think I'm going to put the cross on the front, I'm enough of a target as it is.



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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Tod » Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:24 pm

I've just done a test piece using the paint as described above. I can certainly see brush marks although not too deep, there also seems to be tiny pieces of pigment visible, and I mixed it a lot. I'll see what it looks like when its dry. So far so good (famous last words).



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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby Tod » Thu Feb 21, 2013 10:54 am

I'm on the third coat. The pigment doesn't completely mix in but that may be due to the paint not being warm enough. So with the third coat I have warmed the paint up. It looks very glossy. I have no idea how it will weather or age.



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Re: Black armour - right or wrong?

Postby JG Elmslie » Sat Mar 09, 2013 8:32 pm

Tod, as a note, the painting on the Kelvingrove E.1976.27.k. is almost certainly 17th century, not original. Take it with pinch of salt. (edit - oopse, missed you'd already noted that earllier!)


On the overall subject of blackened armour, I'll merely point out that, from the best of my understanding ( I may be wrong here though), Bob Savage (Curator of European Edged Weapons) at the Royal Armouries is of the opinion that blacking was fairly commonly done. Thom Richardson, ( Keeper of Armour and Oriental Collections) At the Royal Armouries is of the opinion that blacking was fairly uncommonly done.

If the academic experts cant agree, I think we can safely say that the jury remains out.


what is certain is that many of the representations in the Ghent Ms, the editions of Chronicles of Froissart, and multiple paintings do show intensely black armour, sometimes in the same painting as "white" harness. I personally suspect that it was a fairly commonplace ocurrance, and there's recipes for heat-blacking using preparations of turpentine and sulphuric acid which will easily produce such a deep black surface, we've got the fired linseed which will give deep black surfaces, and we've got painted surfaces. I'm of absolutely no doubt that paint was used, particularly on fire-scaled black harnesses/helms, and the medieval man's almost pathological obsession with adding decoration to every surface means those sort of surfaces are just screaming to be embellished, just as pavise were.

And of course, then we've got the velvet/textile covered armours too....


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