Sunday, 24 April 2016

Attending the Opening Ceremony of the Heavy Metal exhibition

My wife and I were invited to attend the opening ceremony of the Heavy Metal exhibition at the Häme Castle on the 21st April. First things first, the exhibition has next to nothing to do with certain genre of music, and a lot to do with heavy metal armour and weapons used in the 16th to 18th centuries. The arms and armour come from the Universalmuseum Joanneum in Graz, Austria and they are, therefore, historical equipment used by the soldiers of the Holy Roman Empire under the Hapsburg rule. These are displayed for the first time in Northern Europe, so it was simply a chance of a lifetime to be one of the first people to enjoy the exhibition.

The programme started with speeches from the director of the Finnish National Museum, Elina Anttila; the mayor of Hämeenlinna, Timo Kenakkala, the director of the Universalmuseum Joanneum, Dr. Wolfgang Muchitsch and the Austrian Finnish ambassador, Dr. Elisabeth Kehrer. The speeches were all decently brief, and accompanied by beautiful classical music performances. Unfortunately, I was unable to catch the names of the songs and composers of the baroque masters in question, but it must be said that the instrument used, a rather quiet, but beautiful clavichord, was something that I wish to listen to again.

But the focal point of the evening were of course the arms and armour themselves. We had time to walk through the exhibition and admire five complete suits of Maximilian and Italian style plate armour, 12 pieces of half armour (upper body only), a plethora of helmets, halberds and other pole arms, a few swords and musket as well as wheellock pistols and a single 16th century cannon. It was not a very large exhibition (who would not just want to look at these forever?), but a nice representation of the various kinds of tools of war at the time. What is even more fantastic about these is how well they have been preserved - even some of the leather parts on the pieces of armour are original.

For a Finn, these items were interesting because we - as part of Sweden - fought against the Hapsburg armies in the 30 Years War (as did most of Europe). The Holy Roman Empire still happily fielded full-suited cuirassiers at the time, as well as half-armoured troops, so there is no doubt that our ancestors saw armour very similar to these riding at them in the field of battle. And, of course, the Swedish troops (mostly mercenaries from Germany, Scotland and elsewhere, but with a core troop of native Finns and Swedes) wore similar armour. The Swedes and Finns mostly got their armour from their dead enemies, but some thousands were purchased for the army by Gustavus Adolphus as well.

If you are in the area, I very much recommend the experience. But, if you are unable to attend, I hope the attached photos give you at least some sense of what the exhibition has to offer. And, if you cannot make it to Finland, try to make it to the Universalmuseum Joanneum in Graz, Austria - their collection apparently contains over 30 000 items from this period while this touring exhibition only includes some hundreds...