As I mentioned in my previous post, the other reason I was so keen on going to Graz (besides the pretzels, obviously), was the Styrian Armoury. Around 5-6 years ago, I went to a medieval armour exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Like most of the special exhibitions at CMA, it was incredible. They’d managed to acquire an unbelievable quantity of armour from around the world, including, most memorably, an entire army’s worth of pikemen, which they has arranged in impressive battle formation. At the time, I noted that most of the collection was on loan from the Graz Armoury, and added it to my mental list of places to visit.
Perhaps because armour is one of the few tangible reminders we have of the medieval era, or perhaps because it conjures up the imagery of jousting, chivalry, and glory which I suspect we all like to associate with the Middle Ages, no matter how far removed it is from reality, I’ve always had a soft spot for armour. (I feel this is an ideal time to insert a book recommendation regarding the fallacy of popular perceptions of medieval Europe: Ian Mortimer’s excellent Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England). Because of this, I’ve been to quite a few other armouries; most notably the Royal Armouries in Leeds (which I really should get around to writing a review of). The Styrian Armoury was nothing like those.
I think the Royal Armouries might be an exception, in that they seemed to be more about the history of British warfare in general, and included lots of fun interactives, but all of the other armouries I’ve visited follow a similar format. There will usually be a striking centrepiece of a knight on a horse in full battle armour, surrounded by cases of various weapons, and some suits of armour belonging to famous (or at least wealthy) people, with captions throughout. The Styrian Armoury effectively decides to do away with all that pesky (helpful?) reading and carefully arranged displays, choosing instead to cram as much crap into a tall, narrow building as is physically possible.
Your 8 euro entrance fee gains you access to a darkened, cluttered labyrinth of metal. The Armoury is spread out (I use that term loosely) over 5 or 6 floors (I lost track after a while), and you’re left to wander it at will, though under the constant hawk-like gaze of the staff. All the surveillance was a bit puzzling, actually, since I was required to leave my (normal sized) purse in a locker at the entrance, so I’m not sure how they thought I was going to steal anything. Was I just going to stick a giant sword under my arm and walk out? Who knows, I guess people are capable of anything. At any rate, despite the heavy staff presence, none of them were forthcoming with any information about the place. I saw an audio guide mentioned online, but no one at the admissions desk offered it to us (though we probably would have been too cheap to get it anyway), and there were quite literally no signs of any kind in the armoury.
I honestly don’t think I’ve ever left a museum before knowing less about it than I did when I walked in, but I feel that’s what happened at the Styrian Armoury. From what I’ve been able to cobble together on the internet, I believe everything there was for the purpose of equipping the Styrian forces, and that it was a sort of communal arsenal that they would collect their armour from in times of war. That would explain the unusual layout, as well as the sheer size of the collection. Most of it was identical, e.g. a wall of matching shields, or a shelf of helmets, rather than the finely wrought detail and unique design of privately commissioned armour, which is what makes up the bulk of collections elsewhere. I’m not even sure if the armour here was properly medieval, as their website claims the collection dates from the 15th-18th centuries, but the building itself is 17th century, which would make it Early Modern instead. Ugh, so many questions!
My most pressing question, however, remains this: what happened to all the codpieces? After passing wall after wall of breastplates and pikes, I was all geared up for the inevitable wall of codpieces. Alas, there was not a codpiece to be found in the entire armoury, not even on the otherwise complete suits of armour. I want to know how the men of Styria protected their, erm, manhood. Every other armoury I’ve been to has had codpieces galore, so why not here?
I suppose all my questions will have to remain unanswered, as the complete dearth of information at the armoury left me feeling clueless. It’s a shame, because I really liked the atmosphere of the armoury, and the, shall we say, eclectic arrangement of their collection, but if I visit something historical, I want to learn all that I can about it. The Styrian Armoury left me feeling at a loss.
I’m only going to give the Styrian Armoury a 2/5. It was neat to be able to see so much armour in one place, but I really don’t think it would kill them to throw up a few signs. After seeing the amazing exhibit the Cleveland Museum of Art was able to put together with the same objects, I can’t help but feel that the Styrian Armoury suffers from a real lack of effort. And 8 euros frankly seems pretty steep for something that doesn’t appear to have been curated at all. It’s probably worth checking out if you’re in the area already, and exceedingly bored, but I wouldn’t make a special trip there the way we did.