The idea of a chastity belt stems from medieval Christian theology where figurative references to the protection of virtue can be found in religious texts from the 6th to the 14th centuries. The literary idea of the locked metal belt worn to maintain virtue or to prevent promiscuity first comes to light in the 18th century with a version described in Voltaire’s poem Le Cadenas (The Padlock) of 1724 and a number of encyclopaedias describing chastity belts in terms of real objects, almost certainly with theories invigorated by the contemporary view of the Dark Ages. Following on from the literal creation of these objects, it stood to reason that physical examples should be sought out and displayed. Metal belts with serrated openings and elaborate piercings began to appear in collections in Europe during the 19th century, perhaps inspired by 16th century satirical prints depicting adulterous wives wearing chastity belts as well as advised by contemporary literature and historical misinterpretation. A 16th century pattern for such objects has been recorded in the Armeria of the Palazzo Ducale in Venice since 1548 (Armeria, Inv. No. 388), with serrated openings and straps formed of short hinged bars. Such an object could not have been worn for much time without causing injury indicating that its purpose was torture rather than the insurance of fidelity. Since the 19th century these belts, displayed in museums such as the Musée de Cluny and the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, were accepted as genuine medieval artefacts but have gradually been proven to be fantastical 19th century creations of enforced fidelity based on a perversion of the medieval concept of chivalry.
Similar examples can be found in the collections of The British Museum, London (M.574) and The Science Museum, London (A641277), and another sold from the John Woodman Higgins Armory Collection (JWHA Inv. No. 2531), Thomas Del Mar Ltd. (in association with Sotheby's), London, 20 March 2013, lot 165 (sold for £6,240).