Wednesday, April 11, 2018


As a kid who enjoyed playing Dungeons & Dragons and reading fantasy adventures about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, it was always a thrill to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts where I could get a close up look at real suits of armor.  They're still one of my favorite things to see at the DIA and now my son joins me in my enthusiasm of this display when we go on a family trip to the museum. These suit of armor have been on exhibit for generations of visitors to appreciate since the William Randolph Hearst Foundation donated items from the tycoon's personal collection to the DIA in 1953 following his death.

The Detroit Institute of Arts' William Randolph Hearst Collection of Arms and Armor includes ten suits of fifteenth through seventeenth century armor along with twenty-five other accessories and weapons that go along with them from this time period.  Over the years other donors have also added to the collection. The museum showcases selections from the collection within its Great Hall located adjacent to the Woodward Avenue entrance lobby and next to the Rivera Court which is home to the building's renowned "Detroit Industry" frescos. Imagine a horse galloping at you in full trot hoisting a man covered in shiny armor hoisting a lance or sword directed in your direction! These were the first tanks of warfare and must have been a sight to behold on medieval European battlefields.

Get an up close look at the ingenuity put into these hand-crafted suits of armor. Look at the one pictured below! Slits in the helmet are just big enough to provide the wearer with an adequate view to see through but small enough to protect a knight's eyes.  A metal rod attaches the helmet to the armor's lower back plate securing the head to avoid neck and spine injuries.  There are large screws and bolts across the suit so extra plates of armor can be mixed and matched as necessary for use in different circumstances.  This suit of armor weighs 88 pounds which is the average weight of a 12 year old boy.  How would you like to be riding a horse or fighting in hand to hand combat with the equivalent of a 7th grade kid strapped to your body?!

This next armored suit has a crest imprinted within its shoulder.  Called "heraldry" these symbols on suits of armor identify the family lineage of the person donning it.  Having a solid metal plate in front of your mouth must make it hard to speak while in a suit of armor.  This particular suit addresses that conundrum by inserting a voice box into the helmet.  Notice too how the armor on one shoulder is caped ... this is designed to provide more protection and aid deflection in the spot where a lance would be impacting the wearer during a joust.

A variety of daggers, maces and swords from the Middle Ages are also on display within the castle-like room of the Detroit Institute of Arts' Great Hall near several of the suits of armor that are on display.

There are also several early pistols and rifles on display within the Great Hall that are examples of the firearms that ushered out the age of knights in shining armor.  These Austrian, German and French weapons have elaborately engraved wooden stocks and were used during the sixteenth century when swords and guns were intermixed on the battlefield.  During this time a knight in armor on horseback may have charged an infantryman aiming a musket at him.

While the Detroit Institute of Arts is known for its displays of paintings and statues, it is also full of historic relics like these medieval suits of armor and weapons.  These items show the artistry and craftsmanship that are works of art in their own right.  Other relics within the more than 65,000 pieces in the DIA's permanent collection ranging from a mummy to an original Howdy Doody puppet. Items are regularly moved between being on exhibit and preserved in storage so there is always something to discover on a visit to this art museum.

For more information about admission pricing, directions to the museum, and
exhibits on display and parking arrangements, go to  Hey, like this tv commercial that I fondly remember from my childhood proclaims, "You gotta have art!"  I'd encourage you to go on a family outing to the Detroit Institute of Arts to take in all the awesomeness this place has to offer. You're sure to have a great time!

If you liked this post, check out these as well:

A moment of Zen at the DIA;

Detroit Industry Murals;

Play Ball! Baseball at the DIA.

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