‘I walked into the entrance hall of the New York town house of collector Seward Kennedy and saw this striking piece of Ottoman art, hanging on the wall,’ says specialist Romain Pingannaud, recalling the moment he first encountered this gilt copper chamfron — a decorative piece of armour for a horse originally used in the 16th century, in what is now Turkey.
‘A chamfron such as this would have covered a horse’s head during battle,’ Pingannaud explains. This example is made of gilt copper, also known as tombak. Because of the malleability of copper, tombak provided no effective defence in battle, suggesting that this particular chamfron was decorative, intended for use in parades or ceremonies. Remarkably well preserved, it has retained its original gilding over the course of centuries.
‘Visually, these are incredibly strong, sculptural objects,’ says Pingannaud, recalling how, when he first saw it, the chamfron seemed to ‘jump’ from the wall. This example is particularly bold, featuring defined lines that run down its centre. Other chamfrons from the period feature intricate engravings or tulip motifs that were particularly popular in the Ottoman era.
This chamfron bears the mark of the Ottoman Imperial armoury, which suggests that its owner would have been a high-ranking officer or official. ‘In battle, those horses protected by a chamfron would have belonged to the most important members of the Ottoman army,’ Pingannaud notes. ‘This was also true of ceremonies, at which a beautiful tombak chamfron would have been a clear indication of the rider’s status.’