18TH CENTURY SHIKARGAH SHIELD
Place of Origin: MEWAR, INDIA
Date: 18th Century
Overall Diameter: 535mm (21 inches)
A remarkable shield of great rarity and splendid decoration, this piece owes its origins to Mewar in Rajasthan, northern India, and is a fine example of work from the region.
The circular panel at the centre of this shield depicts in gold the sun god Surya, the insignia of the Mewar royal court and a deity from whom many Rajput elders claim descent. Moustachioed and with his characteristic crown, he looks out at the viewer from the centre of a stylised sunburst and further concentric circles – the final border filled with six-petalled flowerheads and leaves detailed in red and green, providing a satisfying visual contrast against the predominant gold paint of the panel. Vying with the sun god for pride of place are four exquisite green bosses surmounted at the centre of gilt-brass sunburst bases – their emerald-tinted glow remaining dark and dormant until they are exposed to direct light and viewed at the proper angle.
Perhaps most striking, however, are the four dynamic portrayals of animals – (clockwise from the top of the shield) a rhinoceros, camel, buffalo and stag – all being subdued by lions and tigers in gold. The scenes are picked out in remarkably fine detail: the stripes of the tigers, the fierce manes of the lions, and even the rocky outcrops which function as the stages for these scenes of struggle, have all been painstakingly depicted with careful painted lines. A further decorative band en suite with that at the edge of the central panel separates these scenes from a final border which shows a dense circular array of further shikargah scenes: a crocodile opens its jaws at the assault of a buffalo, pairs of rams and stags lock horns, a giraffe gallops in flight from a tiger, a lion mauls a fallen buffalo, and an elephant tramples over the recoiling body of a tiger seemingly caught off-guard.
The reverse face exhibits the hide shield’s natural texture covered with a reddish-brown lacquer and attached with a padded cushion of red velvet and four iron loops.
Depictions of the sun god Surya seem to have changed with time, perhaps on account of different painters’ styles or specific schools, the intense gaze on our own example confirming the shield’s 18th-century origins, though the rounded face is more usually a feature associated with the early 19th century.
A shield preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is also fitted with four green glass bosses (Accession Number 29.158.598), but the more relative comparandum here is a shield (Accession Number 62.2879) preserved in the National Museum of Delhi, whose similarity to our own example is so great as to suggest that it would have likely been made in the same workshop and/or by the same painter. The shield in Delhi furthermore bears the name of Maharana Sangram Singh II, as well as the names of three lords known in Rajasthan as ‘thikanedars’ (namely Salumbara, Kanodha and Badanora). Given the close association of this example to our own, it is not unreasonable to think that the present shield may have belonged to someone of suitably matching importance.
 See Runjeet Singh, The Goddess: Arms and Armour of the Rajputs – London 2018, No. 27, p. 77, as well as the reference there cited: G.N. Pant & K.K. Sharma, Indian Armours in the National Museum Collection, New Delhi National Museum, 2001, pp. 85-88, Nos. 76 & 77.