Shield

ca. 1570 (made)

Unknown

Diameter: 59 cm, Depth: 11 cm

1-1865 FWK

Round convex shield

Round convex shield, of poplar, covered with canvas, white priming, red bole, gold leaf and a green glaze. Outlines are scratched onto the glaze to reveal the gold leaf underneath. The scene depicts annunidentified mythical battle scene or seaborn invasion, where a king is being speared by four soldiers, attacking from the right. In the background on the left is a series of ships lying at anchor. Other skirmishes take place in this scene.The scene is framed by two borders, the outer one in a Greek key battern and the inner one a seres of intersecting circles. On the inside surface of the shield are the remains of two leather arm straps nailed to a velvet ground, with the scene of a fête champêtre: at the top is a group of musicians playing instruments, including a harpsichord on a trestle stand, lute, viola da gamba, an early type of 'cello, harp, flute and lira da braccio, an early form of violin. To the sides are revellers and at the bottom ladies collect water from a drinking fountain.

Beautifully decorated round shields or bucklers like this example were used for military and religious parades rather than fighting. They were most often worn by the soldiers and retainers of a prince or nobleman to demonstrate his status and heroism. They were decorated with illustrations of battles from ancient history and mythology, so as to identify him with heroes like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, and help make his parade seem like an ancient Roman triumph.

This shield was bought by the South Kensington Museum in January 1865 from William Blundell Spence of Fiesole (Italy) for £40. It is described as follows in John Charles Robinson's Report of 6th February, 1865: 'Circular convex shield or buckler a shield of parade, in wood, painted or lacquered - the outer surface enriched with an elaborate battle subject and the interior with conservation subjects of figures in costume of the 16th century, executed and etched on a graffitatura work in grisaille tint on a gold ground, Italian, c. 1550.' It was examined by Peter Young of the V & A paintings Conservation and John Mills of the National Gallery in September 1971. Although this parade shield or buckler is unsigned and undated and its original provenance remains unknown, it is lavishly decorated and must have been associated with a prince or nobleman, wishing to show off his pomp and splendour by staging a religious or military parade. Most surviving bucklers are thought to have been made in Florence and Venice, and perhaps the finest examples are Caravaggio's Medusa, listed in the 1631 inventories as being stored with Persian armour in the Medici armouries and now in the Uffizi gallery, or Giovanni Stradano's battle of Scannagallo, dated 1574, in the Odesclchi collections in Rome. Although not of the same callibre as these two, this shield must have a striking object with a shining green glaze and gilding underneath. The battle scene has not been identified, but the heroism of a solitary kingly warrior taking on ranks of opposing forces no doubt served to draw parallels with the heroism of the prince who commissioned this parade shield.

Location: In Storage

View this object on the V&A website