Heavy Iron Shield
Place of Origin: North India
Date: 18th Century
An extremely heavy iron shield of convex form and elaborate decoration. The reason for the impressive 5.5kg weight is the fact that the shield is formed from a single piece of iron, the polished foliate scrollwork and borders that are clearly visible on the surface are not applied, as would be expected, but carved from a single thick piece of iron. The overall shape formed with physical manipulation, the pleasingly naive hammer marks distinctly present on the rear.
The lower surface has traces of gold that indicate that the entire surface has been gilded, however, a careful examination reveals that beneath the gold, the shield was blued, perhaps the gilding is a later embellishment; regardless, the contrast with the raised ironwork, now in high polish with traces of silver, was, and still is, quite striking.
The lower surface is chased with subtle floral patterns, stippled flowers and comma-like scroll designs, within the raised arabesque scrollwork. Chased inscriptions fill the raised lozenge shaped panels that run around the circumference of the shield. The characters originally filled with silver (traces remain), to contrast with the gilt background.
Clockwise in the cartouches running around the border of the shield, two Persian couplets:
سپری داشت / آن گزیده سوار
آسمان رنگ و / آینه کردار
همچه [کذا] (همچو) گرد قمر / منور بود
پر ز یاقوت / لعل گوهر بود
“That elite warrior had a shield,
The colour of the sky and reflective.
Just as around the moon [everything] is illuminated,
So is the spinel a jewel infused with ruby.”
The meaning of the second couplet is that whatever is in the orbit or vicinity of something superior increases in value by virtue of its proximity. The spinel (la'l) was generally held to be inferior to the ruby (yaqut). This also is a reference to the design of the shield on which the cartouches containing the verses are arranged in orbit around the central six-sided star, in which there appears to be the number twelve, possibly referring to the Shi'i imams. The spelling of the word hamchu as hamcheh suggest strongly that this was not made in Iran, but rather has a regional provenance.
Due to the unusual construction and design, it is difficult to attribute this shield, however the carved intertwined arabesques provide us with some clues, and we can begin to compare it to the patterns on a shield depicted by Egerton (1968), fig.7, p.49, which he describes as Indian Punjabi work from Lahore which is Persian in character. This would support the fact that the inscriptions, while being identified as being in Persian, are not likely to have been executed by a native Persian due to language and spelling anomalies mentioned above.
Four unusual iron bulbous bosses are attached to small threaded rods, one with an old brass armoury tag with the number 100. Comment should also be made in regards to the weight, perhaps the intention was to make it able to deflect musket balls; it is too heavy to be carried in the traditional way except by some giant Sikh warrior.
Stern Collection, New York