This helmet, rather than being based on a particular original or a specific depiction in Ancient art, is based on a series of depictions of Athena on contemporary coinage. The elements of the helmet derive from extant examples, but the design was a joint collaboration between myself and my customer. This is the sketch we settled on – an Attic-Chalcidian helmet rife with mythological connections to Athena – Pegasus on each cheek piece, a crown of olive branches and the head of Medusa as a crest hook at the brow.
Such a helmet should be made from as accurate a material as possible, so I sourced two used B8 tin-bronze cymbals – a crash for the helmet skull and a splash for the cheeks. The mounting hole in the 8″ splash was no problem, because it ended up being cut in half. The hole in the crash was closed up by compressing the central dome of the cymbal inward, until there was nothing but a pinhole left, which was then fused shut.
After more trimming, detail forming, and planishing, the helmet was ready for initial sanding. Before I headed to the sanding booth, I decided to draw out a couple critical areas. First of all, the lobes of the hinges needed to be the same thickness on the helmet and the cheek pieces, so I hammered out the metal there to be sure they would be. I also decided to thin out the brow a bit, because I wanted nice crisp detail on the palmette I would be embossing there.
The next task was to embellish the helmet with repoussé decorations. The detail of the designs largely reflects the thickness of the metal employed – very fine for the Medusa head crest hook, crisp and detailed but on a larger scale for the cheek plates, and coarser designs for the skull.
Execution of the designs required that the metal be mounted on hot pitch and worked with special chisels. The designs needed to be worked from both sides several times with messy and time-consuming cleaning and annealing between each step. Repoussé decoration is a declaration of its wearer’s wealth!
After decorating the parts, the residual pitch was burnt off the parts, taking care not to soften the bronze by subjecting it to the annealing temperature. Then the dark scale was removed by “pickling” in vinegar, and the parts were hand-polished.
My customer plans to line the helmet skull with a natural sponge, the cheek pieces with leather, and to finish the helmet off with a horsehair crest, using a wooden crest box I have provided. With her permission, I will add photos of the helmet with these finishing touches once they are completed.
Some photos from the helmet’s owner, showing how she has finished the crest and handled the chin closure. Lovely!