An Introduction to the Kienbusch Collection

The following is the Preface to Studies in European Arms and Armor: The C. Otto Von Kienbusch Collection in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1992), written by Anne d’Harnoncourt (Former Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, deceased 2008):

“Since 1977, when it was bequeathed to the Museum, the Carl Otto Kretzchmar von Kienbusch Collection of Arms and Armor has been a source of delight to countless visitors to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This splendid installation, crowning the Museum’s monumental staircase, is the first that many people see, and few resist its fascination. Assiduously gathered over a period of seventy years by Mr. von Kienbusch (1884-1976), the collection comprises over fourteen hundred objects, many of remarkable quality, including European armor, edged weapons, and firearms.

The formation of his vast collection inevitably owed much to the particular opportunities afforded in this century, but the caliber of the acquisitions depended equally on Mr. von Kienbusch’s impressive connoisseurship and his relentless study of this complex field. What was to be a lifelong passion was first signaled by the purchase of a small group of swords in 1906, the year Kienbusch graduated with honors from Princeton University, where he had demonstrated a lively interest in history and art. After returning to his home in New York City, he entered his family’s tobacco business. His true career as an arms and armor collector began in earnest in 1910, when he met Dr. Bashford Dean (1867-1928). The first curator of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of Arms and Armor and a major private collector and gentleman dealer, Dean was the acknowledged head of the American fraternity of arms and armor aficionados. In the years after 1900, during sojourns in Japan, Dean amassed the most encyclopedic collection of Japanese arms and armor. Following Dean’s example, Kienbusch became a serious collector of tsuba, Japanese sword-guards. After presenting this collection to Princeton University in 1914, Kienbusch, too, concentrated on European material. During the First World War, Kienbusch was commissioned as a lieutenant and served as Dean’s chief assistant in the army’s specially created Helmets and Body Armor Division. The two men engaged in the research and development of prototypes of ballistic armor based on their knowledge of historic examples.

After the war, Dean acted as Kienbusch’s mentor and regularly purchased modest items on his behalf at overseas auctions; other objects were acquired from auctions held in New York and from a few well-established dealers. In 1923 Kienbusch made his first extended trip to Europe. Traveling for six months, he and his wife Mildred (1887-1968) visited public and private collections and dealers in principal cities from London to Madrid, making purchases along the way. Kienbusch’s next large group of acquisitions came as a result of Dean’s unexpected death in 1928. While the majority of Dean’s collection was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum, Kienbusch obtained many important pieces from the hundreds of items remaining in the estate of the connoisseur he so admired.

Kienbusch matured as a collector in the 1930s and 1940s. the aftermath of the Depression and World War II brought arms and armor onto the art market in large numbers, including the holdings of Clarence K. Mackay and William Randolph Hearst, who possessed the two finest private collections then in existence. Along with the Royal Armouries of H.M. Tower of London and the Metropolitan Museum, a principal beneficiary of the dispersal of these treasure troves was Carl Otto von Kienbusch.

Kienbusch Armory Southeast Corner

The south east corner in the Kienbusch Armory.

By the mid-1950s, Kienbusch was established as the foremost American collector of European arms and armor, and over nine hundred objects filled the armory, which occupied the second floor of his New York townhouse at 12 East 74th Street. Determined to
document his holdings, he commissioned a catalogue from a distinguished international team of scholars: Hans Schedelmann, John F. Hayward, Richard H. Randall, and Anita Reinhard. Published in 1963, as a deluxe, cased quarto, now itself a collector’s item, The Kretzschmar con Kienbusch Collection of Armor and Arms was distributed free to major institutions and libraries around the world.

The catalogue was also an expression of Kienbusch’s concern for the eventual disposition of his collection. He had witnessed, and often benefited from, the dispersal of dozens of private arms and armor collections, but he did not wish a similar fate for his own armory. Courted by several museums that hoped to receive the collection as a bequest, the prize was won by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, led in its bid by R. Sturgis Ingersoll, then president of the Museum and, like Kienbusch, a graduate of Princeton. An enlightened Philadelphia city government played a crucial role by agreeing to fund the renovations needed to convert several galleries into a grand armory that Kienbusch simply could not refuse. For the inaugural installation of arms and armor in 1972, Kienbusch lent a selection of more than one hundred of his finest treasures.

Kienbusch Coat of Arms

Kienbusch Coat of Arms

By the time of his death in 1976, at the age of ninety-two, Kienbusch had assembled a distinguished and comprehensive collection modeled after the ancestral armories of Europe and the great European and American private collections of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Kienbusch Collection continues to inspire a wealth of scholarship in the field of arms and armor. To pursue Keinbisch’s own practice of encouraging active research, the Museum sought and received funds from the National Endowment for the Arts for the preparation of study storage in 1980 and a grant to host a series of visits by scholars between 1982 and 1986 to study aspects of the collection. Their findings are here presented in five essays. The research for the sixth essay, written by a former member of the Museum staff, was largely supported by a Fellowship for Museum Professionals, also funded by the Nationals Endowment for the Arts, whose support for Kienbusch projects has been invaluable for over a decade.

Dr. Helmut Nickel, author of the first essay in this volume, is Curator Emeritus of the Arms and Armor Department at the Metropolitan Museum. Known for his studies of the iconographic historical aspects of arms and armor from the migration era through the Renaissance. Dr. Nickel’s expertise extends to heraldry and the history of the duchy of Saxony. Kienbusch’s own ancestors had emigrated from Saxony to the United States in the 1840s. This family connection and the high quality of armory of the dukes and later kings of Saxony enlivened Kienbusch’s interest in collecting pieces related to the Saxon court. Dr. Nickel, himself a native of saxony, discusses the personal parade armor of the dukes of Saxony, which are among the finest objects in the Kienbusch Collection.

The second essay is by Dr. Lionello Boccia, Director of Museo Stibbert in Florence, which possesses an extensive collection formed by a single collector of arms and armor. Dr. Boccia has written extensively about Italian arms and armor from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution. Upon this occasion, he surveys a group of Italian armor from the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries in the Kienbusch collection.

A.V.B. Norman, former Master of the Royal Armouries, H.M. Tower of London, is an authority on European swords. His essay focuses on Kienbusch’s choice group of court swords and small swords, the last manifestation of the sword worn with civilian dress. Using examples in the collection, Mr. Norman traces the history of the small-sword from about 1650-1800 and its evolution from a sturdy fighting weapon to an elaborate costume accessory.

Claude Blair, former Keeper of Metalwork at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, has written on many aspects of European armor and metalwork from the Middle Ages through the nineteenth century. His essay examines a single helmet, the intriguing history which sheds much light on collectors and collecting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Stuart W. Pyhrr, Curator of Arms and Armor, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, is noted for his studies of the art-historical aspects of arms and armor. Together with Everett Fahy, The John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum and an authority on early Italian painting, he discusses a splendid Italian Renaissance painted shield in the Kienbusch Collection and a related group of pageant shields.

It is a particular pleasure to publish a companion essay by a young scholar in the field, Donald J. LaRocca, who served as administrator and then as Assistant Curator of the Kienbusch Collection from 1982 to 1988 and coordinated the visiting scholars program during his tenure. Now Assistant Curator of Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mr. LaRocca explores the decoration of armes de luxe as it appears in a series of late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century French pattern books in the Kienbusch Library.

Handsomely designed by Greer Allen, this volume was thoughtfully edited by Jane Watkin, Senior Editor in the Department of Publications at this Museum. A generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Cigna-Mellon fund for scholarly publications supported its production. These six essays offer individual approaches to the study of arms and armor by leading scholars in the field today. Together, they advance our knowledge of the Kienbusch Collection and underscore the variety of its holdings. No one would have been more interested in these studies than Kienbusch himself. Following his example and celebrating almost two decades of public display of his treasures, the Philadelphia Museum of Art published this volume in the hope that it will, in turn, stimulate a new generation of connoisseurs, scholars, and enthusiasts in this fascinating field.”

Anne d’Harnoncourt
The George D. Widener Director

Kienbusch Gallery

The north entrance to the Kienbusch Collection.

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3 Responses to An Introduction to the Kienbusch Collection

  1. Bonnie Emery says:

    I have a friend, William Dougherty Smith who used to collect arms and armor for Baron Von Kienbusch. He is 88 now; he still travels and collects. He has great memories of “the Baron” as he calls him and I was just wondering if any one would ever do an interview on how the pieces in the collection were acquired and who made actually made the purchases for it? Mr. Smith memory is still sharp and would likely give a great deal of detail about Kienbusch as well as the collection.

    • kienbusch1 says:

      Dear Ms. Emery,

      We would always love to have more information to add to our Kienbusch archives at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. If you would be so kind as to leave us with either your contact information or Mr. Smith’s, our curator will reach out to you as soon as possible! Thank you very much for your comment!

      Mackenzie Leavenworth
      mleavenw@hamilton.edu

      • Bonnie Emery says:

        Dear Ms.Leavenworth,
        Did you ever receive my reply? I sent Mr. Smith’s contact information to your email @hamilton.edu. If you did not receive it please let me know. Thanks
        Bonnie Emery

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